Renfe eyes French market as Barcelona-Paris train line stalls

Spanish rail operator plans new offensive to penetrate French domestic market

Renfe train Barcelona-Lyon
Renfe train Barcelona-Lyon / Lluís Sibils
Oriol Escudé Macià

Oriol Escudé Macià | @oriolsqd | Barcelona

April 11, 2024 10:57 AM

April 11, 2024 01:33 PM

The date for the first high-speed train service from Barcelona to Paris by Spanish rail operator Renfe is still unknown. While its French counterpart, SNCF, already operates three daily trains on the route, Renfe is still waiting for the necessary permits to operate to Paris.

Although the company was confident it could launch the line before this summer's Olympics, that is now highly unlikely as it still lacks approval from the infrastructure operator and certification for the new trains.

Spanish Transport Minister Óscar Puente last week criticized the French rail operator for hindering Spain's access to the French market with obstacles and excessive bureaucracy, and called for "reciprocity", referring to the ease with which SNCF operates in Spain.


Meanwhile, Renfe is planning a new offensive to penetrate the French domestic market. One of the routes Renfe plans to focus on is the Paris-Lyon corridor, which in terms of mobility is almost five times that of Barcelona-Madrid.

With this route, Renfe would be mirroring what SNCF did in Spain after the liberalization of the Madrid-Barcelona route. Through its low-cost brand Ouigo, SNCF has been offering significantly lower prices than its competitors Renfe and Italy's Iryo.

Puente has accused SNCF of having an "extremely unfair" pricing policy and of engaging in price dumping, a predatory pricing strategy in which a company or country exports its products at a price lower than its domestic price.

"It is not sustainable in the long run because the citizens end up paying for it," he said.

Renfe is also studying a possible recovery of the route between Barcelona and Toulouse.

"It needs to be processed, like any other line, and the necessary steps need to be taken, but wherever there is demand from French and Spanish travelers, which we know exists, Renfe will study it," said Susana Lozano, Director of Renfe International AVE.

500,000 passengers on Lyon and Marseille routes in 6 months

After Renfe and SNCF broke relations at the end of 2022, the Spanish operator reinstated the connection between Barcelona and Marseille and Lyon between mid and late July, initially a few days a week and then daily from October 1st. 

Since then, half a million travelers have used Renfe's international service Madrid-Barcelona-Marseille and Barcelona-Lyon. 

Currently, the International AVE trains connect Narbonne with the Catalan capital in two hours with four daily frequencies, two from the Barcelona-Lyon route and two from the Madrid-Barcelona-Marseille route. 

More than half of the trips to Narbonne originate from Barcelona, followed by Madrid, Lyon, Girona, and Marseille, according to the operator's data. 

Lozano celebrates that the operation of these two corridors has been "above expectations" for the company. 

"We thought there would be less receptivity from our customers, and we are experiencing occupancy rates close to 80% on some sections. We still have to develop connectivity, and we are very pleased," she says.