FRENCH National Railways (SNCF) has operated its inaugural Ouigo low-cost high-speed service in Spain, ahead of the launch of full passenger operation on May 10.

The double-deck train ran from Madrid to Barcelona, carrying secretary of state at the Spanish ministry of transport, mobility and urban programmes, Mr Pedro Saura, the president of infrastructure manager Adif, Ms Isabel Pardo de Vera, SNCF Voyageurs CEO, Mr Christophe Fanichet, Ouigo Spain managing director, Ms Hélène Valenzuela, and SNCF Voyages director, Mr Alain Krakovitch.

SNCF was originally due to launch its Spanish Ouigo service in March, but delayed market entry due to the introduction of a state of emergency by the Spanish government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ouigo brand was launched eight years ago, and now serves 40 destinations in France. The operator will offer 10 services a day between Madrid and Barcelona via Zaragoza and Tarragona with a 2h 30min journey time. Ouigo’s four Euroduplex trains, which were converted by Alstom and SNCF to operate on the Spanish network have capacity to seat 5000 passengers a day. Fares start at €9, and the services has already proved popular with Ouigo selling up to 1000 tickets an hour.

Ouigo will offer a basic price which includes one piece of hand luggage and one piece of cabin luggage, as well as the option to transfer the ticket to someone else up to one day before departure. For an extra €9, passengers can purchase the Ouigo Plus option, which includes the OuiFun entertainment package and extra amenities.

The company eventually plans to offer up to 30,000 seats per day and journeys of less than 2h 30min on future routes from Madrid to Valencia, Alicante, Cordoba, Seville and Malaga.

Ouigo plans to introduce another 10 Euroduplex trains, which are currently being converted by Alstom, to deliver this expansion. The conversion process includes equipping the trains with on-board signalling equipment based on Alstom’s Atlas ETCS system, which is compliant and approved for use in Spain.

“For this project, we have mobilised the best of our SNCF know-how,” Krakovitch says. “Ouigo Spain is not a copy and paste of the French offer, it meets the expectations of the Spanish.”

The operator is the first to enter the Spanish high-speed market alongside incumbent national operator Renfe. Ilsa, a joint venture of Trenitalia and Air Nostrum, is set to enter the market in the second half of 2022. Renfe announced a major shake-up of its onboard offer and fare structure last month.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ouigo has established a detailed safety plan for it services to guarantee that passengers remain safe and comfortable. Passengers will also be able to transfer their tickets to travel on another day at no extra charge.