As I was in Seville for a few days, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to travel onto Spain’s capital, as I had never visited before. The ticket purchase was easy enough, via Renfe’s web-site, although the prices weren’t that cheap. An advance purchase ticket cost around £39, although it’s more expensive on the day of travel.
I made a slight mistake in how I booked the tickets, which is that I opted to go from Seville San Bernardo railway station, instead of Seville Santa Justa railway station. This didn’t matter, and I don’t think it impacted the price, but it meant that I had a three minute connecting journey and it’d have been just as easy for me to walk to Santa Justa. The photo above is of Seville San Bernardo which is a relatively large station, although it’s much smaller than Santa Justa.
On entering San Bernardo I was rather confused, although this isn’t a rare situation for me to be in. One advantage of the British rail network is that when there are automated gates, there are always staff present to help passengers. Other networks across Europe don’t seem to always have that requirement, so I was faced with a row of automated ticket machines and no way through them.
I had the ticket on my phone, but there was no obvious way that the ticket machines could read that. So, I noticed there was a Renfe information desk, and after a five-minute wait I was able to speak to someone. She was helpful and she explained that I needed a card to get through the barriers, and she handed me one. That was that mystery resolved.
The station was more like an underground line, although it had sufficient seats and was pleasantly air conditioned.
Screens showed when the trains were coming through. Which is another problem with the Spanish rail network, as every journey requires a seat reservation. That meant I couldn’t have got an earlier train for my three minute connecting journey, and it meant that I had to have a seat reservation for that journey. I understand the need to have seat reservations for long distance journeys, but this seemed excessive for other journeys.
Anyway, the train turns up on time and is packed, so the seat reservation system had failed anyway. I felt that I could manage the three minute journey in the train’s corridor, but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant trip as it was quite warm.
My first impressions of the Spanish rail network were, at this point, rather negative. I’d had to work out how to get through the barriers, be limited as to what train I could get and then find that the train was full. But, fortunately, everything got much better.
I liked that when I got off the train that there was a staff member with a sign telling customers what platform to go to for the Madrid train. This was rather like at an airport where staff are trying to get customers to their connecting service, and it was all very managed. I liked how at the entrance to platform two, which is where my train departed, that a staff member was checking everyone had a ticket. I didn’t have long to make my connecting train, so it was reassuring that I knew that I was in the right place.
Going down the escalator to the train, where it was possible to see the security checks and ticket check that was on the platform. Since a rather serious terrorist incident on the Spanish network over ten years ago, they have since scanned baggage before customers can board. I’m not sure how effective the whole system is, but it perhaps gives reassurance to passengers. There was also then a ticket check, with all of the staff members being friendly and helpful.
SNCF have an irritating habit of giving me a seat reservation and then not having a carriage which matches that seat reservation. This was much better, there was a staff member to guide customers, but the information on the side of the train was clear. I knew which carriage to board and the numbering of seats was also clear.
Renfe staff handed out free headphones at the beginning of the journey to anyone who wanted them.
There was a film showing on screens, which was the Greatest Showman, and customers could plug their headphones in to a connector at the seat if they wanted to listen to the audio. A rather nice idea, I’m not sure if any British rail company does something similar.
Also by the screen there was an indicator which showed the time and how fast the train was going.
I had been allocated a window seat and the terrain was quite varied along the distance. One slight issue is that there was air conditioning, but it only seemed to be working on the section by the window. This meant that I was only half cooled down, although the overall temperature in the carriage wasn’t too bad.
Disembarking from the train in Madrid, with the service having been around 80% full. The train journey had taken 150 minutes and it arrived on time.
Other passengers disembarking from the train.
And, my first visit to Madrid now began….