Under the proposed regime, the details of which are still to be finalised, operators interested in running services on one or more lines will have to bid in an open tendering process for a permit, which will run for a fixed period. Only a limited number of companies will be issued with permits for each line.

State-owned Renfe will be exempt from this process and will be allowed to continue to operate its services without a permit or time limit on every line. There are also provisions to split Renfe up by forming four limited companies covering passenger, freight, rolling stock maintenance, and rolling stock leasing.

Although the cabinet last year committed itself to the total deregulation of rail transport in Spain by July 1 2013, the decree does not specify a deadline. However, it does set out special conditions for the tourist train market, which will be fully open to competition from July 31 but with no specific requirements.

Liberalisation of loss-making suburban and regional services in Spain is not expected before 2014, and will carried out by letting concessions according the rules to be contained in the fourth European railway package.