What could possibly be superior to a single, extensive high-speed rail network? Three or four that are in competition with one another appear to be improving options for travelers while also (hopefully) lowering costs.
Iryo, the newest company to enter Spain’s competitive fast train market, officially launched on Friday. When French-owned upstart Ouigo joined state carrier Renfe in 2021, the latter immediately responded by launching its own low-cost division, Avlo.
With the addition of iryo, there are now three official rivals, but there are now four rival brands, making Spain the first nation in Europe to offer this many high-speed options.
Iryo is owned by a number of significant players, including the Italian government-owned railway company Trenitalia, the Spanish infrastructure firm Globalvia, and the airline Air Nostrum.
Twenty Frecciarossa or “red arrow” trains, known as Italy’s flagship train and capable of 223 mph travel, have been brought to Spain by Trenitalia. The success of Italy’s high-speed rail project led to the demise of the country’s airline. So, Iberia, beware.
On Friday, Iryo began service between Madrid, Barcelona, and Zaragoza. On December 16, service will extend to Madrid, Cuenca, and Valencia. Additionally, connections to Seville, Malaga, Cordoba, and Antequera will be available on March 31. Connections to Alicante and Albacete will be available on June 2.
The business and Cercanas (regional metro area commuter rail systems) and Air Europa have signed agreements to offer bundled tickets and travel experiences. It will operate 30% of Spain’s high-speed services and aims to carry eight million passengers a year.
The trains, which promote themselves as being focused on “customization and flexibility,” offer four different classes of travel: Initial, Singular, Singular Only You, and Infinita. The airline said in a statement that all seats will have USB and standard power outlets, individual armrests, and cost-free 5G Wi-Fi, with the exception of three that are specifically designed for business travelers.
According to the company, the onboard menu, called Haezea (basque for “wind”), will feature a variety of locally prepared “healthy options” made with fresh seasonal ingredients.
Monday’s inaugural flight was attended by Spanish politicians. Ximo Puig, president of the Generalitat Valenciana, hailed it as a “decisive step in the advance towards new mobility in Spain.”
As a response to the “environmental and social sustainability goals set by the European Union to improve travel in every country,” Luigi Corradi of Trenitalia described the launch.
Prior to the service’s launch, Nick Brooks, secretary general of ALLRAIL (the Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants in Europe), which represents independent passenger rail companies, said: “It is great to see how commercially driven Open Access services, such as iryo, are making long-distance rail more attractive and luring travelers away from less sustainable transport modes, namely airlines and cars.”
The group referred to firms like iryo as “the future of passenger rail” in a statement and called for “competition between different operators on all high-speed rail routes in Europe.”
As for prices, looking at December availability, tickets for the 382 mile, 2hr 45-minute journey from Barcelona to Madrid start at just €18 ($19), though most journeys are around €50. To drive between the two cities would take over six hours.