International passenger

trains in 20th Century Europe

International passenger trains in 20th Century Europe

To Madrid & Lisboa

As long ago as 1894 a through service was started from Paris to Lisboa and Madrid. This was the Sud Express which carried first class passengers only. There is a story attached to this train. It was intended to carry passengers from Russia to Lisboa to connect with sailings to America. Such passengers would have arrived in Paris on board the Nord Express from St Peterburg where they changed into the Sud Express. Fig 1 shows the timetable for this journey.

Fig 1: St Peterburg-Lisboa 1914

This arrangement came to an end in 1914. However, the train endures to this day but it has changed. Passengers for Lisboa now change trains at Irun and are carried forward to Lisboa via Medina del Campo, Salamanca and Fuentes de Oñoro.

Through running arrives

The gauge changing facilities at Hendaye allowed the introduction of a through train from Paris to Madrid for the first time in 1969 called the Puerto del Sol.

In May 1981 TALGO sets were introduced. These had their own gauge changing equipment. This was the consist of the Puerto del Sol up to 1985 when the TALGO set became the Francisco de Goya, the Puerto del Sol becoming a ordinary train subject to the gauge changing facility at Hendaye. The Puerto del Sol stopped running in 1995 and the remaining through train was the Francisco de Goya which ultimately became a TrenHotel train in 1997.

Route development Irun-Madrid

The route from Irun-Hendaye to the Spanish capital city had changed twice from the original route via Burgos, Medina del Campo and Avila. Firstly, in the late 1960s, a shorter route from Madrid to Burgos was opened via Aranda del Duero saving 186 km and this was the route of Spanish traffic up to the late 1990s when the Aranda route declined in importance.  

By the start of the 21st Century, passengers from Paris could change at the border for onward connections to Algeciras and Porto.

Route development from Europe to Madrid

Calais enjoyed an occasional service to Irun which was routed through Paris and in one case a through service existed between Algeciras and Calais.

Switzerland also had direct connection to Hendaye-Irun for much of the 20th Century. For connections to Madrid and Lisbon, links were provided from Geneva to Hendaye-Irun on the Atlantic Coast of France and Spain.

These came to prominence after the Second World War. A variety of routes was used. One way followed the Barcelona route to Narbonne, diverging there across south west France to the Spanish border. As an alternative some trains travelled either through Chambéry or Lyon and across France to Limoges, then Bordeaux. In 2007 the time spent between Irun/Hendaye and Geneva was 14½ hours.

This service changed to a Trenhotel and was withdrawn in 2013.

A notable feature was the consistent service from Hendaye and Cerbère to Roma via Nice and this endured until the late 1990s.

It is notable that the Netherlands and Belgium had no through services to Irun, passengers being obliged to change in Paris

Services to Madrid and Lisboa

D1-1: To Madrid and


To Spain and Portugal

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