Five firms bid for new low-cost high-speed rail services to Madrid as tracks are due to open up

The lines from Malaga and Seville to Madrid are seen as having most growth potential.
The lines from Malaga and Seville to Madrid are seen as having most growth potential. / REUTERS
  • Renfe is getting ready for competition by planning to launch cheaper alternative train services to its own AVE eight months ahead of the new competitors

Five operators have put in bids to run low-cost rail services on the high-speed tracks from Malaga to Madrid from 2021, the railway infrastructure authority Adif said last week, after bids closed. These are in addition to the state operator, Renfe that also plans to start a cheaper fast service to rival its existing AVE.

Currently, Renfe has the monopoly on the rail services from the Costa to the nation's capital with its AVE service. But from 14 December 2020 that will all change as the government opens up some of the high-speed network to other operators, to keep up with EU competition rules.

Along with Renfe are five other operators who have put forward proposals to use the spare capacity on the lines at certain times of day.

These include the Spanish branch of French operator SNCF, Rielsfera. SNCF has experience running cheaper high-speed services in France.

There is also a bid linked to the owners of Iberia airline regional franchise, Air Nostrum, and Trenitalia; a combined bid from trainmaker Talgo and Globalia, current owners of Air Europa; and separate bids from Globalvía and Eco rail.

The bidders' names haven't been officially announced and other groups like Avanza or Britain's Virgin may enter consortia later, it was suggested.

Only some of the country's high-speed lines are seen as having potential for more healthy competition and the Madrid-Seville-Cordoba-Malaga routes are considered the most promising. Malaga could see a 75 per cent increase in trains, going up from 13 to 22 trains a day to Madrid.

The pricing of the new services from Malaga, likely to be launched in early 2021 after the deregularisation, would probably match the low-cost airline model, with discounts for early booking. They would have simpler trains than the existing AVE service but with more capacity.

A headstart for Renfe

As well as outside private bidders, Renfe, the state operator, is to be given the chance to operate its own low-cost model.

Full details haven't been announced, but the company has said it aims to have cheaper services than its traditional AVE trains operating on the Madrid to Barcelona line by 5 April next year.

Services will be added to Malaga soon afterwards, as it plans to have an eight-month headstart on incoming new operators.

Of the new operators, sources said that only two are likely to be chosen from the outside bidders for the Malaga to Madrid line.