On Friday 25 November, Spain will become the only country in Europe with three high-speed rail operators competing to attract passengers.
In fact, there will be a choice of four for passengers to choose from: Renfe, Avlo (which is Renfe’s low-cost service), Ouigo and Iryo. That's the good news. However, there is a drawback: it will only apply to the route between Madrid and Barcelona for the moment, and Renfe will maintain its monopoly between Madrid and Seville in Andalucía until at least the end of March.
Obviously, this increased choice will have an impact on fares. On routes where Renfe has no competition, it is increasing fares by up to 7%, whereas on the Madrid-Barcelona route, which Ouigo also operates, prices have fallen by 50% in the past year. Since October, Ouigo has also been operating a Madrid-Valencia service.
All the companies are keen to operate between Madrid and Andalucía's Seville next year, because it is one of the most popular high-speed routes. However, this will take time. Even Avlo is having difficulties operating in the south of the country.
So, these are the choices ahead for rail passengers in Spain:
Ouigo was the French company which broke Renfe's monopoly in May 2021. It started a service between Madrid and Barcelona with tickets from 9 euros and stops in Zaragoza and Tarragona, and carried over two million passengers in the first year. However, in recent months it has suffered numerous breakdowns, including in May when more than 8 million passengers were affected.
Ouigo introduced a non-stop Madrid-Valencia service in October and plans to start a Madrid-Alicante service early next year.
Renfe launched Avlo in 2021 to defend itself against rivals and promised fares from 7 euros, although they have to be booked well ahead for that price and cannot be cancelled.
Avlo began with Madrid-Barcelona and now runs a Madrid-Valencia service as well. Plans to start running between the Spanish capital and Seville have been delayed indefinitely by delays in the delivery of new trains.
Following an investment of more than one billion euros, Iryo will begin its Madrid-Barcelona route this Friday. It is not a low-cost service so fares will be higher than Ouigo and Avlo, but it does promise to be cheaper than Renfe’s AVE. Services to Valencia will begin on 16 December and the operator plans to introduce services to Seville, Malaga, Cordoba and Antequera at the end of March and Alicante and Albacete in June.
For years, Renfe was the only option for anyone wishing to travel by train in Spain. That has only changed recently, and from 25 November passengers will have even more choice.