Renfe: Spain’s state-owned railway company full guide (2024)

renfe spain

Most passenger trains are managed by Renfe, Spain’s state-owned company whose acronym stands for Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles.

Spain has a network of almost 16,000 km (around 10,000 mi) of railways. In other words, the network serves almost village in the country.

Apart from Renfe, there are other railway operators in Spain:

Therefore, train travel in Spain is extremely easy, comfortable and safe.

And the good news is that you can easily buy your Renfe train tickets online.

If you need it, I wrote a complete guide on how to purchase your Renfe train tickets online.

Renfe offers 3 kinds of train services to travel around Spain depending on the distance they cover: long, medium or short.

Renfe Spain: high-speed and long distance trains

If you want to travel to a long-distance destination, Renfe offers you several trains within the Larga Distancia options:

  • AVE
  • Alvia and Euromed
  • Intercity

Why should you catch a high-speed long distance train?

  • Pros: Fast! Fare refund if the train arrives late (the percentage will depend on how late). You can buy tickets online.
  • Cons: A little bit more expensive than any other train (but worth it).

AVE trains

The first one is a super fast high-speed train called AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) that travels up to 310 km/h (193 mi/h). It will lead you to your final destination in less than half the time it would take you to drive.

Obviously, some routes are complementary (e.g. you can book a ticket from Seville or Málaga to Valladolid but you’ll have to take 2 trains).

Not all trains stop everywhere every time. It depends on the timetable.

Alvia and Euromed trains

Alvia is a high-speed train operated by Renfe for long-distance services with a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mi/h). The trains can use both Iberian gauge and standard European gauge, which allows them to travel on the recently constructed high-speed lines for part of the journey before switching to the “classic” Iberian gauge network to complete it.

Alvia has a lot of routes that depart mainly from Madrid and Barcelona.

Similarly, the Euromed trains links Barcelona to Alicante and stops in Tarragona, Castellón and Valencia. It actually is an Alvia train but a different commercial name.

Intercity trains

The third option is the Intercity train.

This is a little articulated train hauled by a separate locomotive that can run at up to 200 km/h (125 mi/h) on the high-speed AVE lines. Similarly to Alvia trains, these trains are designed with gauge changing technology enabling them to travel on both standard and high-speed rails.

Intercity has a lot of routes that depart mainly from Madrid and Barcelona.

Renfe Spain: mid-distance trains

The Media Distancia trains cover the whole country. These trains are also very modern and quite punctual but they are not as fast as the long distance ones (except the Avant trains).

Why should you catch a moderate speed train?

Avant trains

The Avant trains are Media Distancia services covered by high-speed trains (up to 250 km/h or 155 mi/h) specifically designed for short journeys, as opposed to the trains used for the AVE service.

Avant currently offers a wide range of routes throughout Spain.

Regional trains

The Regional trains are services that stop at all or almost all stations and stops along the route.

Regional Exprés trains

The Regional Exprés trains are services with a smaller number of stops than Regional trains (maximum 3 stops every 100 km), which results in a higher speed and, therefore, significantly shorter travel times than in the case of Regional trains, as well as greater comfort for the passenger.

Renfe Spain: Cercanías (commuter rail service)

The Spain for commuter rail services or suburban trains are called Cercanías.

These are local trains that either cover large cities (including Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville and Valencia) or small regions (Asturias, Murcia).

Here’s the complete list of Cercanías routes.

Why should you catch a Cercanías train?

  • Pros: Big network, trains always on time, very cheap, no traffic jams. The Combinado Cercanías ticket option.
  • Cons: Tickets available only at train stations (both at the ticket offices and Renfe’s vending machines).

Renfe’s baggage allowance

Renfe’s requirements and restrictions are very clear:

  • All ticketed passengers may carry up to 3 pieces of luggage.
  • The sum of the dimensions of the 3 items may not exceed 290 cm (114 inches).
  • The largest of the 3 may not exceed the following dimensions: 85 x 55 x 35 cm (width-height-depth).
  • The total weight of the 3 may not exceed 25 kg (55 lbs).

Renfe Spain doesn’t offer the possibility to buy extra baggage allowance.

Entering the boarding area at any train station is a lot like going through security at an airport (but much faster!). Luggage will be x-rayed so you’re expected to load it on the conveyor belt.

After many years train traveling around Spain, I’ve never seen a member of Renfe’s staff verifying the size or weight of any piece of luggage, no matter how heavy or bulky this looked. In fact, I’ve never actually noticed a scale at any point in the process in any of the train stations I’ve been to.

However, there is no baggage check-in option, so when a train is fully loaded with passengers, luggage storage space can become scarce.

It has occurred to me seeing passengers coming straight from the airport with huge suitcases not having room inside the train to store them. Although I’ve never seeing it myself, the conductor could force you to leave the train for security reasons.

So as a rule of thumb, I suggest you try to travel as light as possible.

Renfe Spain punctuality commitment

Renfe punctuality commitment (compromiso de puntualidad in Spanish) establishes compensations in case your train is delayed.

The company’s punctuality commitment varies from one route to another.

Here are the general rules on all AVE, Avlo, Alvia, Euromed, Intercity and Larga Distancia trains:

  • A delay over 60 minutes entitles you to a 50% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 90 minutes entitles you to a 100% refund of your ticket price.

Here are the general rules on all Avant trains:

  • A delay over 15 minutes entitles you to a 50% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 30 minutes entitles you to a 100% refund of your ticket price.

Here are the general rules on all Media Distancia trains:

  • A delay over 15 minutes entitles you to a 25% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 30 minutes entitles you to a 50% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 60 minutes entitles you to a 100% refund of your ticket price.

Here are the general rules on all Regional and Regional Express trains:

  • A delay over 30 minutes entitles you to a 25% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 45 minutes entitles you to a 50% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 60 minutes entitles you to a 100% refund of your ticket price.

Here are the general rules on all combined tickets (Avant + Avant, Avant + Media Distancia, Media Distancia + Media Distancia and all other combinations) trains:

  • A delay over 30 minutes entitles you to a 50% refund of your ticket price.
  • A delay over 60 minutes entitles you to a 100% refund of your ticket price.

Please note that Combinado Cercanías, luxury and themed trains are not included in Renfe’s punctuality commitment.

When are you entitled to receive a compensation payment?

Your right is determined by two facts: the cause of the delay and the duration of the delay.

The compensation right excludes cases where a delay is caused by force majeure. If the cause of the delay is due to events out of Renfe or ADIF (the company responsible for the rail tracks’ maintenance) responsibility, you won’t be able to claim a compensation payment.

For instance, neither a delay caused by a snowstorm doesn’t entitle you to a compensation payment, nor a delay caused by a train accident. A train engine break or an electricity disruption will give you the right to claim a compensation payment.

How do get you compensation payment?

Refunds can be claimed at any point of sale at stations up to 3 months after the date of the journey. In the case of tickets purchased as part of travel packages, you must go to the travel agency where the ticket was purchased.

However, in most of the cases, you won’t be able to do it as soon as you arrive to your destination because Renfe takes at least 24 hours to certify that your train was effectively delayed.

The easiest way to do so is claiming your refund online going to the compensation payment page. You’ll need to provide your train ticket number.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about train travel in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your train journeys around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Ultimate guide on Spain trains to organize your trip
2. How to buy Spain train tickets online the easy way
3. 7 tricks to get cheap train tickets in Spain
4. Renfe: Spain’s state-owned railway company full guide
5. AVE trains: all about Renfe high-speed trains
6. Combinado Cercanías: get the most out of your free transfer
7. Is the Renfe Spain Pass worth it? My full review
8. Avlo: all about Renfe’s high speed low cost trains
9. OUIGO trains: all about the budget train operator
10. iryo: all about Spain’s low cost rail operator
11. 7 packing tips to comply with your train baggage allowance

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