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AVE High Speed Train
An AVE High Speed Train of RENFE passes a spectacular hilltop castle

The first railway in Spain opened on 28th October, 1848 between Barcelona and Mataro. Although the standard gauge of 1435mm had by then been adopted in several European countries, the new line used a broader gauge of 1674mm (6 Castilian feet). This was generally adopted for new main lines in Spain and of course resulted in a break of gauge at the French border when trains eventually reached it. Neighbouring Portugal had a slightly different gauge of 1664mm which did permit interoperation; however with increasing speeds in the late 19th / early 20th centuries ride and wear became a problem so the systems of both countries were gradually reconfigured to a compromise gauge of 1668mm, which became known as Iberian gauge.

Unlike the break of gauge situation between Great Britain and Ireland, which involved a sea crossing anyway, or between Russia and the rest of Europe which historically was never a heavily used land crossing for political reasons, overland international traffic between Spain and neighbouring France has always been significant. Elaborate gauge-changing facilities at Irun and Hendaye on the Atlantic coast, and Port Bou and Cerbère on the Mediterranean, allow both freight and passenger trains to conduct a relatively uninterrupted journey across the French border. At one time, there was even a Madrid to Moscow sleeping car service, which involved two changes of gauge.

As well as the Iberian gauge network, there were also a great number of narrow gauge lines, mainly metre gauge. Many of these remain in operation.

The first dedicated high speed line (AVE) between Madrid and Seville opened in 1992 with a gauge of 1435mm. This enabled the project to use essentially off-the shelf French technology, but is not without its own problems, not least that the new lines required their own infrastructure into the city centres that they serve. Automatic gauge changing facilities are provided for trains that run beyond the high speed network onto existing lines.

In late 2022, Catalan rail authority FGC launched studies into four projected tram-train networks. Three of these would serve the areas around Amposta, Girona and Manresa; the fourth would connect with the existing RENFE line near Urtx-Alp and run via Andorra–La Seu d’Urgell Airport to destinations in Andorra.

Main line and regional railways

Port and Industrial Railways

Tourist & Museum Railways

Miniature Railways

Metros, trams and urban funiculars

See also:

There are no railways in the Spanish coastal enclaves and offshore islands of North Africa.

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Photo image supplied by Spanish Tourism