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End of the line for RENFE’s Arco brand

By Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries |

Last year Elipsos slipped from the list of RENFE’s brands when the sole surviving trains flying the Elipsos banner were withdrawn. The last services were the night trains from Madrid and Barcelona to Paris.

Last Arco to Galicia

Later this month another RENFE brand will be consigned to history. Spanish rail operator RENFE plans to reclassify the sole remaining Arco service as an Intercity train from Monday 29 September 2014. This last Arco train is the Camino de Santiago which each morning leaves Irun (in Spain’s Basque region right on the border with France) for the long journey to A Coruna — serving Santiago de Compostela along the way.

At Miranda de Ebro, through carriages from Bilbao to Vigo are attached to the main train. The latter are detached from the train again at Ourense.

The train runs daily in each direction.

A little bit of history

Arco services were first announced in 2001, when RENFE decided to refurbish and upgrade a fleet of carriages to launch the new brand. The Arco project was a purposeful attempt to boost rail traffic on axes which relied on traditional Spanish-gauge connections rather than the new network of high-speed lines. They were deployed mainly on the Levante route from Barcelona to Alicante — complementing the existing Euromed and Talgo services on that east-coast route, but generally making less intermediate stops than either Euromed or Talgo trains.

The few remaining Arco services on the east coast route were reclassified as Intercity some years ago. They now run just between Barcelona and Valencia.

The Garcia Lorca

Loco-hauled services branded as Arco trains were useful on routes where trains carried multiple portions to various destinations. The most celebrated of these was the Garcia Lorca which used Arco stock for many years. It left Barcelona each morning for Seville. Depending on the day of the week, the train carried through carriages for Málaga, Granada, Almería and Badajoz.

The Garcia Lorca still runs, but is nowadays a much simpler affair without those through carriages to various outposts. It is a straightforward Talgo train which runs as one unit from Barcelona to Seville.

Arco becomes Intercity

When the Camino de Santiago switches from Arco to Intercity later this month, the timings remain much the same and the train will still carry through carriages from Bilbao to Vigo as well as the main section from Irún to A Coruna. So it’ll not make any difference to passengers, but it marks one more step in the rationalisation of RENFE’s complicated and often overlapping brands.

The new Intercity brand service will, like its Arco predecessor, offer two classes of service: turista and preferente, equivalent to second and first class respectively. In that respect, nothing changes. It is a little unusual as many (but by no means all) of RENFE's surviving Intercity trains offer only turista class seating.

Confusion around the Intercity brand

The Intercity brand is a catch-all classification favoured by RENFE for a number of trains that somehow don’t fit easily into other categories. This is of course mightily subjective. RENFE actually scrapped the entire Intercity brand in 2008, but revived it two years ago as an umbrella for trains that did not easily fit into their other brand categories.

Apart from Barcelona - Valencia and (from 29 September) the Irún to Galicia service, the Intercity brand also pops up on the following routes, though in some instances on trains which run only on peak travel days. Some run as little as once weekly in each direction, typically out from Madrid on a Friday afternoon, returning to the Spanish capital on Sunday afternoon. Of course, in most cases there are other trains plying the same routes, but these run under more common RENFE brands rather than Intercity.

  • Madrid Atocha to Valencia and Gandia via the new high-speed line
  • Madrid Chamartín to Valencia via Alcázar de San Juan and Xátiva
  • Madrid Chamartín to Murcia and Águilas
  • Madrid Chamartín to Irún via Miranda de Ebro
  • Madrid Atocha to Pamplona via the high-speed line towards Zaragoza
  • Cartagena to Zaragoza via Valencia and Teruel
  • Madrid Atocha to Huelva via Córdoba and Seville
  • Madrid Atocha Cercanías to Huelva via Caceres
  • Madrid Chamartín to Badajoz via Caceres
  • Madrid Chamartín to Valladolid via the high-speed line

For those who know Spanish rolling stock, this mixed bunch of RENFE Intercity services are (or have been) operated by the following train series: 120, 121, 449, 470, 490, 598, 599.

We have commented before on the ambiguities surrounding the Intercity brand across Europe as a whole.

Copyright © Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries. All rights reserved.
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About The Authors

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book was published in 2022 and reprinted in July 2023. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.

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