AVLO, Renfe’s first low cost train in Spain

12/12/2019 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter – Suscribe my blog
(Version en français)
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As the SNCF comes to Spain with its rail concept Ouigo, Spain would to answer clearly. That’s what the Renfe did by introducing its new Avlo train.

The Renfe monopoly is coming to end. The market liberalization planned for the end of 2020 will involve the entry of two additional operators and the creation of a low-cost market still unknown in the Spanish rail sector. « This is both an opportunity and a challenge, » said Renfe president Isaías Táboas last June.

Words « AVE » and « low cost » are transforming in one word « Avlo » and was presented this Wednesday. This low cost AVE will be operated on the Madrid-Barcelona line from 6 April 2020, and tickets can be purchased from the end of January, coinciding with the Fitur Tourism Fair. Neither the Renfe nor the Ministry of Development has revealed the future pricing policy, but price cuts up to 50% of the current best rates could be possible. Renfe will logically begin its low cost services on the busiest corridor in the country, which is also the one that is frontally subject to competition from domestic aviation.

Specifically, the AVLO will include two sets of modified AVE trains:

  • 10 AVE S-106 trains will be upgraded to 581 seats;
  • 5 AVE S-112 trains will be upgraded to 438 seats.

The train has only one class and the cafeteria corner as well as the business class are removed. Drinks and meals must be purchased at vending machines. The common exterior livery is a dominance of the purple color – the official color being Pantone 2425 -, with orange, white and turquoises nets. The access doors are orange, which contrasts with the conventional white AVE of the public company. The transformation of S-106 and S-112 is made in its workshops in Madrid, La Sagra, Malaga and Valladolid.

The public company Renfe thus wants to get ahead of its future competitors SNCF and ILSA-Trenitalia, which are preparing their arrival on the Spanish rail market with high-speed offers at low prices when liberalization begins at the end of 2020. The Minister for Transport José Luis Ábalos has described the AVLO as « a milestone in the transformation of the Spanish railroad because high-speed will no longer be just a product focused on business travel, but will be focuse to families, young people and other groups that use railway occasionally. » According to the Minister, « the new AVLO product has an impact on the three declared objectives which are to make a railway more inclusive, more competitive and more sustainable. The services will be configured to have a reduced price without losing speed, punctuality and safety. » The AVLO policy is a conquest to customers that does not take, or very little, the train. On the main lines, 22 million travelers have used the AVE services.

Renfe will operate the AVLO independently of the AVE service. The public company restructured its Renfe Viajeros division a few months ago with the creation of a new specific activity sector for the low cost AVE that Félix Martín Merino will lead. The company is confident that this new service will generate 20% of its total revenue over a 10-year horizon.

There are only two models of high speed rail low cost services in Europe at the moment, namely the Ouigo from SNCF and IZY from Thalys, which have their own distribution network. The Italian NTV-Italo is more classic and can not be classified as low cost with a four class offer on theirs AGV. Currently, the AVE service, inaugurated in 2008, currently covers the 621 km between Madrid and Barcelona in less than three hours to reach a speed higher than 310 km / h, but with an average tickets price of 98 € per journey, although cheaper offers are available for travelers who book in advance.

In fact, the one who fears this new railway service is the president of Iberia, Luis Gallego. At newspaper El Pais, he said he would do everything in his power to compete against the new low-cost AVLO model announced by Renfe. In particular, the company member of the IAG group (British Airways) will maintain its commitment to the Madrid-Barcelona air bridge, reinforced by the acquisition of Air Europa. On this route, the market share of current AVE is 66% compared to 33% for aircraft. According to him, over distances greater than 600 kilometers, the aircraft would have no competitor. But all the major cities of Spain are 500 to 700 kilometers from the capital Madrid, pretty well centered if we compare Paris with France or London with Great Britain. If Renfe continues its Avlo offensive on other destinations (Valencia, Bibao, La Coruna, Seville, etc.), Iberia could be worried. Nevertheless optimistic, Gallego replies that « if you have a good product, people remain loyal to the air shuttle » . Conversely, the boss of Iberia reiterated his request to have the AVE in the terminal 4 of Madrid-Barajas airport, which would provide « between 300,000 and 400,000 additional passengers at the hub » , thanks to passengers from its long-haul flights.

((based on article of El Pais)