International passenger

trains in 20th Century Europe

International passenger trains in 20th Century Europe To Madrid and Lisboa To Barcelona

Fig 1: Main International rail lines in northern Spain 2013


Iberia is the south western peninsula of Europe which contains the countries of Spain and Portugal. Spain is separated from its neighbour France by the Pyrenean mountain chain which joins the Atlantic with the Mediterranean Seas. At the seaboard ends of this chain lie two major rail border crossings – the Atlantic Coast at Hendaye-Irun and the Mediterranean coast at Cerbère-Port Bou. Railways arrived in Hendaye/Irun in 1864 and at Cerbère/Port Bou in 1878.  Between these two crossings lie two secondary routes- Pau-Canfranc-Zaragoza and La Tour de Carol.

Destinations in Spain and Portugal retained their popularity in the 20th Century and they drew passengers from most of Central and Western Europe. The Spanish Civil War interrupted cross border services to France from July 1936 until January 1940.

There is another defining characteristic of this border which is that it marks a change of gauge from the French gauge of 1.435m to the Spanish broad gauge of 1.674m. In the earlier parts of the 20th Century this forced through passengers to change trains at the frontier. This barrier was removed in the late 1960s by the installation of gauge-changing equipment at Hendaye and Port Bou.

Coming of the high speed train - Madrid-Barcelona and France


The Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) high speed trunk route from Madrid opened to Barcelona in 2008 and has reached Figueras. This line was extended  in early 2009 from Figueras to Perpignan by-passing the existing border crossing at Cerbère-Port Bou. New services linking Barcelona with Paris are imminent (November 2013)   It is projected that the Barcelona-Paris time will be reduced to 6+hrs using the new line. Since the AVE network has adopted standard gauge it will also be come possible to travel from Paris though Barcelona to Madrid and thence Malaga and Sevilla.


The planned expansion of the AVE line to the French frontier had reached Valladolid in 2007 and will be expanded north to Hendaye.

D: To Spain and Portugal

International passenger trains in 20th Century Europe

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