eu-RENFE re-enters France-S100 test runs (5)

EUROPE: Spanish national operator RENFE undertook a test run between Barcelona Sants and Lyon Part-Dieu on January 16 as part of preparations to revive international inter-city services between Madrid, Barcelona, Lyon and Marseille, which ceased in December last year.

Madrid – Marseille and Barcelona – Lyon services had been operated since 2013 using RENFE’s Alsthom-built S100 high speed trainsets as part of the RENFE-SNCF en Cooperación joint venture with French incumbent SNCF, which used its own TGV Duplex trains to operate between Paris and Barcelona.

However, when liberalisation of the Spanish passenger market saw SNCF launch services under its Ouigo brand to compete with RENFE domestically, the international co-operation initiative looked increasingly anomalous, and it was formally dissolved in December 2021. Explaining the decision, SNCF said those trains run by RENFE had been losing up to €10m per year.

eu-RENFE re-enters France-S100 test runs (1)

The test train preparing to leave Barcelona Sants.

SNCF was able to maintain its Paris – Barcelona TGV service independently using a small set of six trainsets modified for use in Spain and with Ouigo España’s safety case, which covers the whole of the national 1 435 mm gauge network. SNCF is currently running two trains per day between the French capital and Barcelona, and expects to add a third daily return journey in mid-2023.

Announcing its plans to relaunch services in France on its own, RENFE said in a statement on January 16 that French safety regulator EPSF had placed ‘a multitude of requirements’ on the Spanish operator which do not apply to SNCF’s operations in Spain. The safety authorisation approved by EPSF and the EU Agency for Railways on December 22 only allows RENFE to run on the routes from Perpignan to Lyon and Marseille, it said.

eu-RENFE re-enters France-S100 test runs (13)

First class accommodation on the RENFE S100 trainset.

RENFE made clear that it intends to apply for approval to run across the whole network in the future as part of its long-standing ambitions to expand as the French market also liberalises.

eu-RENFE re-enters France-S100 test runs (10)

The bar car; these trains were refurbished in 2011 by Alstom at its Belfort works in eastern France.

The Spanish incumbent reported that it is continuing to train drivers and operational teams to support the relaunched services. A phased reintroduction is planned over the summer, with RENFE eventually aiming to run 28 trains per day on the two cross-border routes.

It will continue to use its fleet of 10 S100 trainsets for these services. Based on a French TGV design, these were refurbished in 2011 by Alstom at Belfort, modified for use with France’s 1·5 kV DC power supply, and equipped with ETCS.