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TRAIN TRAVEL

Spain to offer free train trips: when, where and how?

Train passengers in Spain will soon be able to travel on some 'trenes' for free, the Spanish government has announced. Become a member to find out which trains will be free, when, the smallprint to look out for and how you can take advantage of this offer.

free train tickets spain
The free ticket offer doesn't apply to all trains in Spain. Photo: Vane Monte/Pixabay

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced recently that multi-journey tickets for some trains operated by the state owned train network, RENFE, will be free.

Announced on July 12th during the first day of the ‘State of the Nation’ debate, the headline grabbing 100 percent discount followed news that the government had originally committed to a 50 percent reduction. 

A 30 percent discount will also be applied to the cost of passes and multi-trip tickets for regional and local transport services, including city metro, bus and tram systems, bought between September 1st and December 31st 2022.

READ MORE: How much can you save on public transport in Spain with the new state discount?

The scheme will cost public coffers a reported €200 million, according to government spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez, and comes amid a series of measures put in place by the government to try and ease the pain of rising inflation and prices, but also to lower pressures on fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing energy crisis. 

“The government will subsidise 100 percent of the public service of commuter trains operated by Renfe. We hope that the autonomous communities can complement this enormous effort made by the Spanish government,” Sánchez said.

But which trains will be free, when, and how can you take advantage of them?

When?

This eye-catching travel discount will be available from September 1st to December 31st 2022, during which multi-journey train tickets on the trains outlined below will be free.

Which trains are free?

Unfortunately, the Spanish government has not given everyone in Spain free train travel on every route and on every type of train.

There are rules.

Simply put, local and commuter trains will be free. Cercanías, Rodalies (Catalonia), and Media Distance (local and medium-distance journeys) will be 100 percent free of charge.

The policy is aimed at encouraging the use of trains as opposed to other fossil fuel intensive forms of transport, and it’s valid for journeys up to 300km.

That in mind, trips on long-distance or high-speed trains, such as AVE and Alvia, are not included in the plan.

Neither will the routes in Avlo, the low-cost AVE option established in 2021, nor the medium and high-speed Avants.

Avlo and Avants will instead have a 50 percent discount on the original price, as outlined by the government in June.

How can I take advantage of this offer?

For the 100 percent discount on Cercanías, Rodalies de Cataluña and Media Distancia, monthly and multi-journey tickets will be eligible for the discount.

The multi-trip ticket for Cercanías or Rodalíes will be valid for unlimited trips between any origin and destination, and free for travellers who make 16 or more trips (four per month) between September and January, offered to travellers who purchase monthly passes.

You can find a breakdown by RENFE on the regional differences and passes here.

For Media Distance services, the pass will be free for those users who make 16 or more journeys, or travellers that purchase any of the following monthly passes:

For more information in English about each of these Media Distancia (medium distance) passes, click on the one you’re interested in learning about. 

SPAIN-FREE-TRAINS

So far, the Spanish government have announced the discounts but not exactly how to get them. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP

Types of journey

Importantly, it is worth noting that one-way and round-trip tickets are also excluded from this initiative, and will therefore not be free.

The free travel is designed for frequent travellers, and includes weekly and monthly subscription passes, the full cost of which will be covered.

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Deposits

As with anything in life, always read the small print – as it’s rare that something is totally free. Fortunately, The Local has done that for you, and it turns out that you won’t simply be able to waltz up to your local train station and take a free train anywhere from September 2022.

In order to take advantage of the 100 percent discounts, you must first put down a small deposit.

  • For Cercanías and Rodalíes services, this will be €10.
  • For medium distance services, it will be €20.
  • The idea of the deposit is that they ensure travellers make a minimum of four trips per month and it’s a way of avoiding scams.
  • The deposits will be returned to travellers after four months, when the scheme ends at the end of December.

Which routes?

Because Cercanías or Rodalíes cover shorter, local routes, the passes will be valid for unlimited trips (with a minimum of 16 over the four months) between any origin and destination.

As for medium-distance, high-speed trains (on routes that do not exceed 100 minutes, 1 hour and 40 minutes), the government has said it will pay the price of 50 percent of monthly passes.

The lines benefiting from this are Madrid-Palencia, Madrid-Zamora, León-Valladolid, Burgos-Madrid, León-Palencia, Burgos-Valladolid, Ourense-Zamora, Palencia-Valladolid, Huesca-Zaragoza, León-Segovia, Segovia-Zamora, and Palencia-Segovia.

How do I get the discount?

As of now, the government have announced the discounts but not exactly how to get them. 

It seems fairly certain that a deposit will be required to take advantage of the offer, but it is unclear how exactly the government will apply the discounts, and whether they will be applied to the monthly travel passes or if there will be some kind application process – whether online or at the station – in order to get the discount.

Like many things in Spain, it is expected the way in which the discount is applied and how to apply for it will be left up to the regional governments.

Stay tuned to The Local Spain to keep up to date with this offer, and to receive information on taking advantage of it as soon as the government releases more information.

Spanish trains explained

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of train services in Spain.

Cercanías: Local trains that link major cities with their metropolitan area. Cercanías operates in Alicante, Barcelona, Bilbao, Cádiz, Madrid, Málaga, Oviedo Santander, San Sebastián, Sevilla, Valencia and Zaragoza. 

Rodalies: The same as Cercanías, but in Catalonia.

Media distancia: Regional trains that link different cities, towns, and villages within a single autonomous community. 

Regional: Similar to media distancia but usually with more stops, and are often, as a result, slower but also cheaper. 

Ave: Spain’s high-velocity, cross country service. 

 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

How does train travel in Spain compare to the UK?

Train travel in Spain is generally very good and foreign residents here often talk about how good the rail services are compared to their home countries, particularly those from the UK. But is it really that different? Read on to find out.

How does train travel in Spain compare to the UK?

Spain’s main and most extensive rail network is RENFE, which is a national and state-owned company. Conversely in the UK, train companies have been privatised and there are many different ones that run in different areas of the country.

This makes a big difference in how all the different rail services are run, including how much the tickets cost.

Price

Long distance

Social media is full of people complaining about the price of rail travel in the UK, but is it really that much more expensive than in Spain? The Local Spain did some research to find out.

Let’s take two journeys of around the same length – Barcelona to Córdoba which is a distance of 536 miles and London to Aberdeen which is a similar distance of 545 miles.

If we book the cheapest available ticket one month in advance for a return journey from Barcelona to Córdoba returning one week later, it comes out at €188.75 per person.

If we book a return journey on the same dates from London Aberdeen and again go for the cheapest available time, the cost is €215.30. That is a total difference of €26.55.

But what about if you want to go on a spontaneous trip and book on the day, what about the price difference then?

Surprisingly, booking on the day from Barcelona to Córdoba and returning one week later is actually cheaper than booking in advance at €161.50 per person.

Note that this isn’t always the case with RENFE trains, sometimes booking in advance can save you money.

Booking a train from London to Aberdeen on the day and again returning a week later costs a total of €237.70.

Again, as you can see travelling long distances on the day is also cheaper in Spain, with an even bigger difference of €76.20.

Short-distance travel

We’ve looked at the price of long-distance trains, but how does Spain compare to the UK when it comes to short distances?

Let’s look at Barcelona to Sitges which is approximately 24 miles vs Oxford to Reading which is 25 miles.

A single ticket on Catalonia’s Rodalies trains costs €4.60, while the general price of a single to Reading costs €13.32.

This shows that travelling short distances on trains is also cheaper in Spain.

Speed  

You may pay more for trains in the UK, but do they actually get you there any faster than the Spanish trains? Unfortunately, on long-distance trains the answer is no.

The fastest train from Barcelona to Córdoba will get you there in 4 hours 40 minutes and the fastest train from London to Aberdeen will get you there in 6 hours and 53 minutes.

However, for the prices mentioned above, the Barcelona to Córdoba took 6 hours and the London to Aberdeen train took 7 hours 10 minutes. 

This may have something to do with the fact that high-speed trains in Spain are a lot faster than those in the UK.

AVE trains can run up to 300 km/h (186 mph), while in the UK, the high-speed trains typically run at 201 Km/h (125 mph).

However, for short distances, the Barcelona to Sitges train takes around 38 to 40 mins depending on which train you take, while the Oxford to Reading train takes around 22-32 mins depending on the train you take. This time, the UK train is slightly faster.

RENFE station in Spain

Find out how to get a refund for delayed trains in Spain. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Delays and compensation

Trains in the UK are notorious for being late and delayed, while in Spain you’ll find that they’re generally on time. However, over the last few years, the punctuality of trains in Spain does seem to be getting slightly worse.

If your train is unfortunately delayed in Spain – can you claim any compensation? The answer is yes. RENFE has a very strict punctuality policy.

The amount you can claim will depend on the type of train you travelled on, the amount of time it was delayed and the reason for the delay.

On AVE and Avant trains, a delay of over 15 minutes entitles you to a 50 percent refund of your ticket price and a delay of over 30 minutes entitles you to a 100 percent refund.

On AV City, Alvia and Euromed trains a delay of over 30 minutes entitles you to a 50 percent refund and a delay of over one hour entitles you to a 100 percent refund of your ticket price.

On Media Distancia trains a delay of over 15 minutes entitles you to a 25 percent refund, a delay of over 30 minutes entitles you to a 50 percent refund and a delay of over one hour entitles you to a full refund.

The compensation excludes cases where a delay is caused by something outside of RENFE’s control, such as the weather, but if it’s due to a technical fault, then you are able to claim.

The process to claim your money back is incredibly easy. You simply go to the website link here and put in your ticket number, origin and destination. The system will then let you know if you’re entitled to a refund or not.

If you are, it will ask you if you want the money back as points (if you’re a member) or if you want the money put back on your card. If you choose the latter and you have a Spanish bank account, they will refund you straight away. It may take slightly longer for international bank accounts.

As the UK has many different train companies, the amount of refund you’re entitled to for a delayed train can be tricky to find out, but the UK Citizens Advice Bureau says: “You’re legally entitled to compensation of 50 percent of your ticket price if you get to your destination between 30 minutes and an hour late and a full refund if you arrive more than one hour late”.

The way you claim your money back is not as simple as in Spain though. According to MoneySavingExpert “If you want a refund for a delay, you’ll need to apply for one and it’ll take up to 28 days”.

This is comparable to Spain, however, Spain offers slightly better compensation for delays to long-distance trains.

Comfort and services

Comfort obviously varies from train to train, depending on the type you’re on and the distance you’re travelling. However, on long-distance journeys on Spanish trains generally provide more leg room.

AVE trains also offer you wet towels to clean your hands and movies to watch during the journey, which is different to the type of service you’ll find on UK trains.

So overall, it seems the Spanish trains are cheaper, faster for long distances and more comfortable than in the UK. 

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