According to the local press, the Renfe is planning to stop its « trenhotel » night train between Barcelona, Madrid and Vigo/La Coruña, when traffic in Spain is allowed to resume. These night services have already recording losses of around 25 million euros per year, according to the operator, but were also undermined by recurrent breakdowns which periodically required the continuation of the coach journey! There is no information about the Madrid-Lisbon and Lisbon-Hendaye routes.
Under these conditions, and given the poor and slow prospects for business recovery, the Spanish public operator ruled out bringing this train back into service, at least in the short term. Among the arguments, apart from the economic aspect, are above all the mobility restrictions resulting from deconfinement and an « too slow » recovery in travel demand to be expected in the coming months.
The new distancing rules may indeed be fatal to night trains, especially in couchette carriages where different travellers, mix together. Couchettes and seating compartments are particularly popular with those calling for the return of night trains. Operators have no room for manoeuvre other than to place a maximum of only two persons per compartment, which would cause the load factor to collapse.
In its plan for a return to normality, Renfe plans to prioritise the resumption of trains and connections with higher profitability by recording a high occupancy rate in order to minimise the « losses » that the crisis is expected to generate.
Renfe has already recorded the negative impact of the crisis on the results for the first quarter of the year, with a 17.7% drop in revenue generated by passenger traffic on its AVE and long-distance trains, which amounted to €274.44 million, compared with €333.3 million a year earlier. The Renfe would therefore be inclined to want to regain better finances by cutting certain services.
Updated June 4, 2020
However, we remain cautious on this analysis because at the beginning of June, strong protests from Galicia forced the Renfe to reaffirm that these night trains to Barcelona and Madrid could back on track for the winter of 2020, without further details. However, once again, we will remain cautious before seeing the reality of this back.
According to some sources, this Spanish episode is also due to a lack of quality, which shows that a night train cannot be improvised. Furthermore, the Covid crisis19 has also delayed the Renfe project to reconfigure the remaining Trenhotel trains into Avlo trains, a project planned to counter the SNCF’s Ouigo trains. So, at the time of writing, uncertainties remained. Wait and see…
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