The next Renfe branch will not be in any municipality of the Spanish geography, neither large nor small, neither on the coast nor in the interior. Its next office will move beyond the Pyrenees to France, where the company wants to take advantage of the winds of liberalization. The same trend that has challenged him here, in Spain —since 2021 several private companies have been fighting for his clientele in some of the main passenger corridors—, translates on the other side of the French border into an opportunity to test new and promising markets.
They are not wishes, nor plans, but an offensive already underway.
A new “home” in France. That is what Renfe has in mind: to acquire a new branch in Gallic lands. Its Board of Directors has already adopted the decision and has just transferred it to the Ministry of Finance. The objective —the firm details— is “to successfully undertake the implementation of Renfe Viajeros in the French market and to continue expanding High Speed activity in the corridors with the highest density and economic interest”. With the headquarters, he wants to facilitate the signing of contracts, marketing, issuance of invoices and the search for personnel.
Will to take root. The Spanish operator points out that the new infrastructure demonstrates its “will to bet on the French market and remain in the long term.” “It is a fundamental piece in the strategic plan for international expansion to become a reference operator through the provision of quality, safe and efficient services”, he argues.
As a result of this cooperation, @renfe It will offer its rail services on the Barcelona-Lyon and Madrid-Marseille routes before the summer, and between Lyon and Paris before the end of the year.
We advance as a country hand in hand with our European partners.#XXVIICumbreHispanoFrancesa pic.twitter.com/ro7drInFTs
– Raquel Sánchez (@raquelsjimenez) January 19, 2023
And beyond the new office? The branch is just one more piece in Renfe’s plans to make its way into the French market. Not the first. The company has already obtained the necessary certificates to operate on the Barcelona-Lyon and Madrid-Barcelona-Marseille lines. On January 16, the tests of the AVE trains that will circulate between France and Spain began in fact and the operator advances that, once the training of the train drivers is finished and the authorizations to operate on the lines are obtained, it will define a transport plan. For now, it already has an idea of how to expand: progressively until adding 28 weekly circulations.
His plans go a little further, however. Renfe is already working to obtain the safety certificate that will allow it to operate throughout France. The purpose is clear and from the Spanish operator they frankly recognize it: “Take advantage of the incipient liberalization that the French State and SNCF have announced.”
And all this… Why now? The key word is the one that Renfe quotes: the liberalization of the railway market. As SNCF, the French state company, explains, the process of opening up to competition is long overdue, but the calendar managed by the sector is very clear: “From December 2023, the organizing authorities – the French State and the regions — they must tender their contracts.” The liberalization, abound from SNCF, affects high-speed services, which can be provided by multiple operators, and public contracts.
A hot topic… and at the highest level. The issue was on the table during the Spanish-French summit in January. Once completed, the Ministry of Transport released a note in which it guarantees that its French counterpart is working so that “Spanish railway operators can operate in the neighboring country in a liberalized environment”. And he slides: “Raquel Sánchez has welcomed the fact that Renfe is going to offer its rail services on the Barcelona-Lyon and Madrid-Marseille routes before this summer, and has applauded Beaune’s commitment that Renfe start operating services between Lyon and Paris before of the end of the year.
And here in Spain? Here, in the market that it has comfortably dominated for decades, the scenario has also become more complicated for Renfe. In Spain, the liberalization of passenger traffic was activated at the end of 2020, but COVID marked its first stages and it really did not start to take hold until 2021. Taking advantage of this opening, in May 2021 SNCF began to offer its high-speed “low” service. cost” on the Madrid-Barcelona line under the Ouigo brand.
The scenario is now much more complicated than in 2020, before the health crisis. Instead of a single high-speed service in the hands of Renfe, as was the case before, the market has four players: AVE, Avlo —the low-cost brand launched in 2021 by Renfe to adapt to a more competitive market—, Ouigo and Iryo. , an operator that launched just a few months ago and is supported by a business consortium made up of Air Nostrum, Globalvia and Trenitalia. Logically, private labels focus on certain brokers.
An interesting market, but not new. France could be a strategic market for Renfe, but not new. In 2013 the Spanish operator and SNCF created an alliance to manage the service between both countries, a link that allowed them to move millions of travelers on the routes between Barcelona, Lyon and Paris and Madrid and Marseille. Things changed, however, just a year ago, in February 2022, when SNCF announced its decision to end the cooperation. The step was taken only a few months ago, when “Renfe-SNCF in Cooperation” stopped providing service. Shortly before, let’s remember, Ouigo had been released, with SNCF behind it.
Cover image: André Marques 432 (Flickr)
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