Train Vs Plane: Which Is Best For Domestic Spanish Travel?

In many countries, the idea of taking the train rather than the plane would be a non-starter, but in Spain, taking the train versus the plane for domestic travel makes a lot of sense.

Over the past 25 years, Spain has invested a fortune in infrastructure. This includes a high-speed rail network that connects every major city in the country.

Iberia A319
In some cases taking the train makes more sense than flying. Photo: Iberia

Spain’s AVE high-speed rail network currently has 3,100-kilometers (1,926.25 miles) of track with more still being built. It has made Spain a world leader when it comes to kilometers of high-speed track per inhabitant.

Unless you have ever traveled on a high-speed bullet train, it is hard to imagine that getting from one city to another by train can be faster than flying.

In Spain, where trains travel at speeds of 300kph (186.4mph), this is a reality when you take into account getting to and from the airport and time spent going through security.

Using Barcelona to Madrid as an example, city center to city center by AVE takes 2hr 30min flying takes just over an hour. However, when you factor in the time it takes to get to the airport, through security and everything else, the train wins.

Realizing that the train was hurting their business, Spanish national carrier Iberia has streamlined their Madrid-Barcelona-Madrid flights by making them more like a bus service. Now, you can be aboard the plane as soon as you get to the airport. Miss your flight? Don’t worry, just jump on the next one.

Unfortunately, Iberia charges a premium for this service, making it almost double the cost of the train.

In some parts of Spain, the plane still beats the train

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet have revolutionized air travel in Europe. With regards to mainland Spain, getting from point A to point B by train sometimes means having to make a connection, as is often the case with flying.

Vueling A319
Flying is still a better way to get between some cities. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons

If, for example, you wanted to travel from Valencia in the southeast to Bilbao in the north, it would mean you having to change trains in Madrid. The entire trip would take you eight hours.

Meanwhile, you can fly between the two cities in one hour and 15 minutes.

Another example of where the plane beats the train is Alicante to Seville. From the center of Alicante, it will take you 20 minutes to get to the airport by bus. The flight time to Seville is one hour, with a bus to the center of the city an additional 15 minutes which equals a total of 1hr 35mins. Add two hours in for getting to the airport in Alicante before you fight and you have a traveling time of 3hr 35mins.

The same journey by train would take you 5hrs 36mins and involve changing trains in Cuenca.

Trains will soon start to replace planes on shorter journeys

Yesterday Simple Flying reported on how Royal Dutch Airlines KLM is replacing a flight with a train service instead. The airline is partnering up with Dutch, Belgian and French railway operators to bring passengers to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam from Brussels.

AVE Sapin
Trains will replace planes on short flights. Photo: Kabelleger Wikimedia Commons

Currently, KLM operates five flights a day between the Belgian capital and Amsterdam. As of March, this will be reduced to four and then at some point possibly none. KLM calls this all a part of their “Fly Responsibly” program where they point out the environmental benefits of taking the train over the plane.

What they fail to mention, however, is that by dropping short-haul routes, it frees up slots for long-haul flights at Schiphol.

Spain’s Iberia is also talking about a partnership with Spanish train operator Renfe to sell combined air-rail tickets. Part of Iberia’s strategy would include connecting Terminal 4 at Madrid Barajas airport to the high-speed AVE network.

Traveling in Spain by rail is getting less expensive

Having studied low-cost airline business plans, Spain’s national railway operator Renfe has this year introduced what could be called “Ryanair on rails.”

Renfe AVE train
Tickets on Renfe’s new EVA trains cost 25% less. Photo: CARLOS TEIXIDOR CADENAS Wikimedia Commons

The trains, called EVA instead of AVE, run between Madrid and Barcelona, and while still as fast as the AVE, they have more seats and fewer services. Instead of the standard 2-2 seating, the EVA trains have one extra seat per row in a 3-2 configuration. The trains will also get rid of the bar and cafeteria in favor of vending machines.

Tickets on the new EVA trains will cost 25% less than the current rail fares making a one-way ticket between Madrid and Barcelona cost 65€. If EVA proves to be successful, the scheme will be rolled out on other popular Spanish rail routes.

Given the choice of flying or taking the train, if the journey time and cost were about the same, which would you choose?