High-speed Catalonia-Marseille rail link to return

New route means 48 trains per day between Barcelona and Madrid

A high-speed train operated by Renfe at Barcelona's Sants Estació station (by Andrea Zamorano)
A high-speed train operated by Renfe at Barcelona's Sants Estació station (by Andrea Zamorano) / Oliver Little

ACN | Barcelona

March 29, 2022 02:09 PM

The high-speed train link between Catalonia and Marseille will return from April 8, Spain's state-owned railway company Renfe announced on Tuesday.

The new route will also bring the number of high-speed AVE trains between Barcelona to Madrid to 48 per day.

The Marseille-bound train will leave Madrid at 1.25pm, stopping at Zaragoza and four stations in Catalonia: Camp de Tarragona, Barcelona-Sants (at 4.36pm), Girona and Figueres Vilafant. On the other side of the Pyrenees, it will stop at Perpignan, Narbonne, Béziers, Montpellier, Nîmes, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, reaching Marseille at 9.26pm.

In the opposite direction, it departs Marseille at 8.02am, reaching Barcelona-Sants station just under 5 hours later, at 12.50pm, before arriving in Madrid at 3.45pm. The service will not stop at Lleida in western Catalonia.

French connections

The Marseille line is the third direct high-speed connection between Catalonia and France, after Paris and Lyon.

A trip from Barcelona to Paris takes 6 hours and 40 minutes, stopping at Girona, Figueres Vilafant, Perpignan, Narbonne, Béziers, Agde, Sète, Montpellier, Nîmes and Valence.

Barcelona to Lyon takes 5 hours, via Girona, Figueres Vilafant, Perpignan, Narbonne, Montpellier, Nîmes and Valence.

The future of cross-border services was in the spotlight in February after French rail operator SNCF decided to unilaterally break its international cooperation deal with Renfe, but the Spanish company's announcement of the Marseille link confirms its intention to remain in the market.

Night train to Zürich

Catalonia is also set to have a high-speed link to Switzerland by 2024, with a route between Barcelona and Zürich forming part of a network of overnight trains connecting 13 different European cities, including Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Rome and Amsterdam.

The project is led by the railway companies of France (SNCF), Germany (DB), Austria (ÖBB) and Switzerland (CFF). The newly created routes will be known as the Nightjet, the name of the overnight services of Austrian railway company ÖBB that already runs trains in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

Campaigners have called on train operators in Catalonia to bring back night services that have disappeared over the past decade due to "laziness."

They insist that with existing infrastructure and investment in material, it would be possible to travel to Paris, Milan, Zürich or Frankfurt in 10 hours from Barcelona, leaving in the evening and arriving in the morning.

In addition to international destinations, they argue that connections with Galicia, the Basque Country and Andalusia should be restored, as well as the rebuilding of a route between Barcelona and Lisbon.

High speed, low cost

The high-speed train market in Spain has become increasingly diverse in recent years as both Renfe and SNCF have starting operating low-cost alternatives.

Ouigo (SNCF) launched its route between Barcelona and Madrid in May 2021, two days after the state of alarm in Spain ended, breaking Renfe's monopoly of being the only high-speed operator in Spain since 1992.

Renfe's AVLO, known as the 'low-cost AVE', launched on the Barcelona-Madrid line the following month, with four trains per day.