French rail operator breaks international cooperation deal with Renfe

SNCF and Spanish company shared high-speed services between Barcelona and several French cities

Spanish Renfe and French SNCF run the High-Speed Train service between Barcelona and Paris (by J. Pujolar)
Spanish Renfe and French SNCF run the High-Speed Train service between Barcelona and Paris (by J. Pujolar) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

February 16, 2022 06:49 PM

High-speed trains between Barcelona and the French cities of Lyon and Paris could be off the railroad tracks.

SNCF, the French national rail operator has decided to not extend the agreement between both companies to share the train infrastructure between the two countries. The information was first published by the Spanish La Vanguardia newspaper and later confirmed by the Catalan News Agency (ACN). The current contract ends in December.

The reason behind the decision, SNCF claims, is the lack of cost-effectiveness reached so far. Since 2013, when the service started, up to 5.5 million travelers have traveled using Renfe and SNCF trains across the border.

Until now, both public companies shared resources via a joint venture, Elipsos International, using the Renfe-SNCF brand. However, with the French operator pulling off, Renfe will no longer be able to oppose and the brand will disappear.

Barcelona was the start or ending point of these international high-speed trains that stopped in other Catalan cities such as Girona and Figueres before crossing the border under the Catalan Pyrenees.

Renfe’s future, however, remains in France as the company said to ACN. The operator will request French authorities' permission to use the tracks "under the desired reciprocity context."

Surprise decision

SNCF breaking the contract was not expected as last autumn, Renfe-SNCF CEO David Cortés confirmed that both companies were negotiating to extend the deal after 2022.

With the liberalization of the high-speed railway market in Europe, both operators competed in Spain using Renfe’s AVLO and SNCF’s OUIGO. However, "cooperation and competition are not incompatible and it is a day to day case in the industry sector," Cortés said at the time.