Since the end of last week, Renfe users who have tried to buy a ticket for a high-speed train (AVE) between Madrid and Alicante have seen that they can buy them as long as the trip is before June 30. On the other hand, as of July 1, there is simply no AVE. Tickets can be purchased for the trains that link the two cities, but on journeys that last more than four and a half hours; two hours more than in the high speed. Starting tomorrow, it will be another story and they will be sold again.
Hélène Valenzuela, director of Ouigo: “With the one that is falling, we cannot raise prices, purchasing power is going to go down”
A specific situation that has several causes and that has unleashed a political storm, with criticism from different public administrations. What has happened so that ‘AVES’ have not been sold between Madrid and Alicante in one of the summers when the tourism sector is most stressed by high demand? There are different loose fringes, which not only involve Renfe, but also its new ‘low cost’ division, Avlo –which was scheduled to start operating in Alicante this month–, the railway infrastructure manager Adif; and to competing private operators, Ouigo and Iryo.
Change in operations: from Atocha to Chamartín
To understand what is happening, we must start from the reorganization of high-speed operations between Madrid and the Valencian Community. Years ago, it was agreed to transfer the trains to Levante from Atocha to Chamartín, north of the capital, due to the saturation of the central Madrid station, where there is no room to accommodate more trains. In addition, Chamartín is being configured as a new railway node, because it will be the connection point with the high-speed trains to the north of the Peninsula.
Starting from that agreement –which today has remained a dead letter–, to understand what happens this summer, two other factors come into play. The first is that the tunnel that connects Atocha with Chamartín is not yet operational. The one known in the sector as “Túnel del Chato” is already finished, but it is pending the approval of the State Railway Safety Agency (AESF), an independent body but which hangs from the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda , which has not communicated when this permit will be.
The second factor is the works that are being carried out at the Chamartín station, which are outside the major urban planning operation and the changes in the future station. These works, to locate these trains between Levante and Madrid, are carried out by Adif and must be completed before the end of June. More or less coinciding with the times that are handled to have the approval of the tunnel from the State Railway Safety Agency.
If these two factors are solved, all the high-speed trains between Madrid and Levante could be moved to Chamartín, but political issues and criticism of this change of destination come into play there. “We have already asked Adif for an urgent meeting to demand explanations and, above all, because we do not agree with the decision, just as other institutions and social organizations in Alicante do not agree. What we will do there is negotiate with the Ministry, demand a rectification and explanations, ”said the then Minister of Public Works, Arcadi Spain, in March.
Since then, meetings have been held to determine if there is an option for some trains to end in Atocha and others in Chamartín, as confirmed by Adif. “The framework agreements signed with the operators contemplate that Chamartín is the head of the Levante services”, explain sources from the railway manager. “For months, meetings have been held with each of the operators to find out the general position of each operator and his proposals. As a result of these meetings, Adif has presented proposals for evaluation by the operators”, they add, without going into more detail.
Regarding the reorganization, they indicate that “the plan designed by Adif to organize the circulation of trains between Madrid and Levante responds to a deep process of technical analysis of the capacity of the Atocha and Chamartín terminals, which has its origin in the Informative Study of 2007 and that ”for its elaboration, different phases of operation were taken into account depending on the availability of each of the infrastructures that are going to configure the Madrid high-speed network (Atocha-Chamartín tunnel, Atocha pass-through station, new roads in Chamartín, etc…), with the aim of accommodating all the traffic foreseen in the framework agreements with the operators“.
At the moment, without tickets for Alicante in July and August
Faced with this situation, at the end of last week, Renfe confirmed that it was not selling AVE tickets to Alicante from July 1, given the impossibility, it stated, of being able to specify whether the trains ended in Chamartín or Atocha. “Renfe has NOT suspended the sale of tickets between Madrid and Alicante,” the company said in its statement, capital letters included.
This Wednesday afternoon, on the other hand, has confirmed that tickets will be sold tomorrow. “Renfe will put the AVE tickets between Madrid and Alicante on sale starting tomorrow until September 12. In this way, all AVE trains will go on sale during the high summer season”, the operator has indicated in a statement. Trains going to Atocha. After that, it will be seen.
“As of that date, September 12, Adif will design the new marches that will be articulated around the Chamartín and Atocha stations,” Renfe qualifies. “Furthermore, in the next few days the new offer of the transversal Alvia trains will go on sale which, after the opening of the new tunnel that will connect Chamartín with Atocha, will see travel times cut, which will benefit routes such as, for example, Gijón-Alicante”.
Renfe (as well as its ‘low cost’ subsidiary Avlo) can continue to operate this AVE in Atocha, but the same does not happen with other operators, such as Ouigo, which is awaiting approval for the ‘Túnel del Chato’, because its technology requires completion of its route at that station. In fact, its first executive in Spain, Hélène Valenzuela, explained to elDiario.es at the beginning of April that she hoped that her two routes to Valencia and Alicante would be operational before the summer and that, if not, “it would be a great irresponsibility ” for postponing liberalization.
Ouigo sources explain that they have to operate in Chamartín. “Due to the specificities of the Spanish infrastructure, the Ouigo trains can only operate from the Madrid-Chamartín station to the Levante corridor.” It is due to the fact that the section that connects Atocha with the Levante corridor has the historical Spanish security system [denominado LZB] to Torrejón de Velasco, which makes it impossible for our trains to operate, today, from Madrid-Puerta de Atocha to Valencia and Alicante, since they have the European standard security system [ERTMS]”. For this reason, Ouigo needs ‘el Chato’ to be operational and its trains, in any case, will end up in Chamartín.
In addition, Ouigo requires an additional period of three weeks to train its drivers regarding this tunnel. “We have already begun to train the drivers on the route to Valencia, in the section that does not include the tunnel, once it is operational, it takes time to train the drivers and finish homologating our trains,” they indicate. . The solution is not far away on the calendar, because the subsidiary of the French railway group announced this Wednesday that on June 30 it will confirm when it begins to operate between Madrid and Valencia (Alicante has to wait) and will start selling tickets for this route.
There is a third company that still does not have a date to start operating in the new liberalized environment: Iryo, owned by shareholders of Air Nostrum and Trenitalia. “Next November in Iryo we will start our operations with the route to Barcelona and, after this first commercial trip, in the following weeks and in a staggered way we will start the connection with Levante”.
In your case, you can end up in Atocha or Chamartín. “In principle, the entry of our operations is not subject to the entry into operation of the high-speed tunnel between the Atocha and Chamartín stations. Our fleet, made up of 20 totally new ETR trains, have no limitations regarding interoperability and are equipped with the different signaling systems of the Spanish railway network, which allows us to adapt and reach both stations. However, there could be ADIF limitations due to congestion in Atocha, but from Iryo we understand that the tunnel will come into operation and, therefore, there will be no risk”, they qualify.
While waiting for the Chato tunnel to have permits and to clarify which trains go to Atocha and which to Chamartín, the question of the AVE to Levante has been colored by political questions. This week, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Housing of the Community of Madrid, David Pérez, has criticized the “improvisation” and “opacity” of the central government. And, the mayor of Alicante, also from the PP, Luis Barcala, has assured that there are “tourists from Madrid who planned to travel to the Costa Blanca next month and are looking for other alternative destinations, such as Malaga, given the uncertainty generated by this incomprehensible and arbitrary suppression of the sale of tickets at the beginning of the high season”.