There are major changes to report on night trains to and from Portugal. There have been rumours throughout this year about the poor loadings on the two international overnight trains to Lisbon. Yes, there are only two. These trains are the Lusitania (Madrid to Lisbon) and the Sud Expresso or Surex (Irun to Lisbon). The latter is the surviving remnant of the classic Paris to Lisbon service which in its heyday also carried through carriages from Paris to Porto and Vigo.
We had been fully expecting a new timetable from 9 December, when many European rail operators introduce new schedules, but now we see that a major recasting of these two services was introduced this month. Effectively the two trains are now combined into a single service, with Lisbon-bound portions from Irun and Madrid being combined at Medina del Campo.
For years, the Sud Expresso has left Irun late evening, but that has now all changed. Departure is now at 18.50, giving a much earlier arrival in Lisbon at 07.30.
The Lusitania leaves Madrid 35 minutes earlier (at 21.50 instead of 22.25), and arrives in the Portuguese capital, just as it has always done, at 07.30. The route of the train has been slightly altered. Instead of running directly from Ávila to Salamanca, it now makes a loop north via Medina del Campo, stopping there around midnight to pick up the carriages that have come south from Irun.
Until now, the Sud Expresso has left Lisbon Santa Apolónia at 16.30, while the Madrid-bound train has not departed until six hours later. Under the new arrangements, the combined train now leaves Lisbon every night at 21.18.
The Sud Expresso is detached from the Madrid train at Medina del Campo, with a twenty-minute stop there just before six the morning. The Madrid portion of the train then runs south to the Spanish capital where it arrives at 08.20 (that is fifty minutes earlier than hitherto), while the Sud Expresso continues with the remaining carriages to Irun, pulling in at 11.17. The train then continues over the International Bridge to terminate at Hendaye in France at 11.28. It has long been a feature of this train that the northbound service continues over the French border, while the Lisbon-bound train starts its journey only in Irun (on the Spanish side of the frontier).
The changes to the timing of the Sud Expresso affect changes at Irun and Hendaye with TGV services from and to Paris.
From 9 December, there will be further major changes on night trains to and from Spain. Some Elipsos night trains from Barcelona will be struck from the timetables. The Paris service continues, but no longer will it be possible to travel in overnight comfort from Barcelona to Geneva, Zürich, Turin or Milan. The withdrawal of these services is offset in part by the introduction of a new high-speed daytime TGV from Spain to Switzerland.