Barcelona by Train – rail services to Barcelona
The rail network throughout the Iberian Peninsular was built to wider gauge than standard (1,668 mm/5 ft 5⅔ in as opposed to 1,435 mm/4 ft 8½ in) and while legend has it that it was to prevent the railway being used to invade from France, the truth is simply that the wider gauge allowed more powerful engines to be used in the mountainous terrain of Spain and Portugal.
However, the construction of a high speed network in Spain since the early 1990s means that Spain is now dual gauge, since it was decided to adopt the narrower gauge more common in the rest of Europe to allow direct access to the European network. Eventually the entire network will be converted, although it is unlikely to happen any time soon.
The majority of the Spanish network is operated by RENFE, although Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) is responsible for a local train service that operates services to the Barcelona’s satellite towns.
The Paris – Barcelona train service
One of the main routes is the train from Paris to Barcelona, on which the Elipsos Trenhotel offers a 12 hour overnight train between Paris and Barcelona run in partnership by RENFE and France’s SNCF, arriving at around 08:30 every morning at Barcelona-França station.
The Paris-Barcelona trains also stop at Orleans, Limoge and Perpignan, in France and Figueres and Girona. You can buy train tickets from Paris to Barcelona in advance from Rail Europe or from the RENFE website, although the latter can be difficult to navigate and sometimes does not accept foreign credit cards.
Travelling to Barcelona from Italy or Switzerland by train
In addition to the Paris-Barcelona rail service, Elipsos also offers a thrice weekly Milan to Barcelona train service on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as does the Zurich-Barcelona service.
The train to Barcelona from southern France
If you’re travelling from southern France then one option for travelling to Barcelona is the Talgo, which departs from Montpellier, Perpignan and Narbonne. The Talgo also connects Barcelona with Valencia, Alicante and Cartagena. Journey time from Perpingnon is three hours and from Montpellier, 4 to 5 hours.
According to the RENFE website pets can travel for free providing they don’t interfere with other passengers, weigh less than 6 kg and are in a cage.
High speed trains to Barcelona
The Alta Velocidad Española, or “Spanish High Speed” is a train service running at up to 185mph/300km/h on a dedicated standard gauge track. The service runs to Barcelona from Madrid, via Guadalajara, Calatayud, Zaragoza, Lleida and Tarragona and promises arrival within 15 minutes of the scheduled time or a full refund, which is extremely rare.
Since opening in February 2008 the service has taken away business from the Barcelona-Madrid air shuttle services to such as extent that Barcelona airport saw its first fall in air traffic in recent years. One big advantage is that the AVE runs from city centre to city centre, negating the need to travel to and from an out of town airport – the train arrives at Barcelona-Sants, with easy metro connections.
The AVE will eventually operate between Barcelona and France, and the construction of this section of track is much in evidence between Barcelona and the French border. There has also been a question controversy over tunnelling beneath the city, especially a section that runs close to Sagrada Familia. The high speed rail link to France is due to be completed by 2012, although it is likely that this will slip.
Local rail services
In addition to the rail services operated by RENFE, Barcelona has a local train service operated by FGC, between all the major satellite towns to Barcelona, including Sabadell and Terrassa. You can buy tickets at the stations, for more information see the FGC website