On 14 December 2016, the European Parliament approved the Fourth Railway Package, the framework for a railway reform to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the railway throughout the European Union, while removing the current institutional, legal and technical obstacles, creating a fully integrated and liberalised European rail network.

The liberalisation process included in the Fourth Railway Package has already been transposed into Spanish law. In particular, Royal Decree-Law 23/2018, on the Railway Sector, which set December 2020 as the start date for new railway companies to start transporting passengers by rail using long-distance and high-speed services.

From that date onwards, any company with a railway company licence and a safety certificate issued by the Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Ferroviaria (Spanish Railway Safety Agency) that has submitted an application to use the railway infrastructure may provide services in competition with Renfe.

To organise this new environment, the Infrastructures Manager (Adif) selected three railway corridors (Madrid-Barcelona-French Border, Madrid-Levante and Madrid-Toledo-Seville-Malaga) and three different levels of operating capacity for each of them, categorised as packages (A, B and C).

On 27 November 2019, Adif pre-awarded the different packages as follows:

  • Package A: Renfe Viajeros (Renfe Passengers) is starting out with 96 AVE (high-speed) trains and will occupy an average of 86% of the capacity offered for this package in all three corridors, between the end of 2020 and the end of 2030, thus increasing its current offer by 20%.
  • Package B: ILSA: Air Nostrum (55%) and Trenitalia (45%) will operate with 23 Frecciarossa 1000 trains and will occupy an average of 70% of the capacity offered for this package in all three corridors, and is scheduled to start in January 2022, after approval of the material in Spain.
  • Package C: RIELSFERA: SNCF (100%) will operate with 10 Alstom Duplex (two-floor) trains already approved in Spain, will occupy 100% of the capacity offered for this package in all three corridors and is scheduled to start in December 2020.

This opening up of traffic in Spain will lead to a 65% increase in the capacity offered: there will be a 50% increase on the Madrid-Barcelona route, 40% on the Madrid-Levante one and 60% on the Madrid-Sur route.

With regards to the services subject to the public service obligation (Cercanías, Regional trains, Alta Velocidad Media Distancia (AVANT (mid-distance high-speed) and Metric gauge), European regulations allow member states to choose not to mandatorily put PSO services out to tender until 2023, which can be extended if there is an agreement in place at that date.

The liberalisation of the rail transport market for goods began in Spain in 2005, although other private rail companies did not effectively start until 2007. The sector operates under a system of free competition.