We think that some of the slower rail routes through Spain offer the finest way of exploring the country by train. RENFE are tweaking their timetables from 17 June 2012 to create a new direct slow travel option between Spain’s two largest cities.
Holders of InterRail and Eurail passes have often commented to us on the high supplements payable by pass holders for travel on the premium AVE services in Spain. The Barcelona to Madrid route is one that elicits frequent comment. Our standard response is to say that no-one forces you to take the fast train. But we admit that in some cases in Spain there may be no obvious alternative. There has long been a slow train option from Barcelona to Madrid, but it has until now involved a change of train in Zaragoza.
That changes on Sunday when Spanish operator RENFE introduce a new direct Regional Express service between Spain’s two largest cities. Train No 17050 will leave Madrid Chamartín daily at 08.17, reaching Barcelona França at 17.23. In the reverse direction, Train No 17051 departs Barcelona França at 08.47 and arrives at Madrid Chamartín at 17.37.
In Barcelona these trains also serve Passeig de Gràcia and Sants railway stations.
From Madrid, the train runs non-stop to Guadalajara, then continues via Calatayud, Zaragoza, Caspe, Reus and Tarragona to Barcelona.
RENFE tell us that the new trains are not just a summer innovation. They are scheduled to run until the end of the current timetable period. So that means up to and including 8 December 2012.
The regular one-way fare is €54.70 — less than half what you might expect to pay if want to just turn up and hop on one of the premium AVE expresses.
Okay, so it’s great for those pass holders who are really intent on avoiding AVE supplements (but it does require a very much longer travel time). And for those buying regular tickets, it’s a good deal with a reasonable fare that does not need advance booking. But, even leaving aside the question of economics, this is really a journey worth making. You will see a lot more of Spain than you would ever see from the high-speed services. We would thoroughly recommend this route to visitors to Spain who want to catch a flavour of what rail travel was like in the country prior to the advent of the modern high-speed network.