A Talgo train
Recently, one of our readers asked if we could identify the early morning Spanish train that used to trundle from Montpellier to Barcelona.
We asked our rail correspondent, who told us it was a Talgo. Since then, he has written a fascinating and detailed article about the train.
Article and photo by Chris Elliott, author of ‘The Lost Railway Lines of L’Hérault.
It was a Talgo, very Spanish and before it was withdrawn in December 2013 it crossed the frontier at Cerbère - Port Bou using a gauge changer.* At the same time that it was retired, the other overnight sleeper trains using Talgo carriages from Paris to Barcelona and Madrid were withdrawn, leaving France and Spain with no overnight sleeping trains. Some years back this same train started in Geneva then headed for Barcelona via Montpellier. In its heyday Talgo series 3 were used, but when it was withdrawn it was a series 4 train.
Many would describe it as quaint, where on the other hand, when introduced back in 1942 by Alejandro Goicoechea et José Luis Oriol, it was a revolutionary system offering a much more comfortable ride. Its name derives from the combination of its two inventors and its articulated system “Tren articulado ligero Goicoechea Oriol”.
Its secret lies in its aluminium light-weight carriages, and each carriage shares a set of wheels allowing it to take tight corners. The very latest Talgo, the April series, can in fact offer a two metre long bed which in this day and age is a must if they decide to launch any overnight trains again.
To most English travellers these trains remain unknown, whereas the Talgo company has recently been successful in supplying their trains to a whole host of countries such as Argentina, Germany, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Russia, USA and, in the past weeks, new Talgo trains to Saudi Arabia.
Inside Spain, Talgos are to be found on most of the new AVE High Speed services and by using its dual gauge wheel system it can transfer from the European standard gauge high speed lines on to the classic wider Iberian gauge lines.
Will the Talgos return to France? it is unlikely, as RENFE Spanish Railways now use some rather old refurbished TGVs as their AVE Alta Velocidad Española on their daily trains from Marseilles to Madrid, Toulouse to Barcelona and Lyon to Barcelona.
Currently RENFE Spanish Railways operate the very latest Talgo series 7, 130 and 202 plus the ultra-fast “April” capable of running at 380 Kph.
The politics of the Talgo train is first and foremost comfort. A lesson to be learnt elsewhere in Europe!
* Whereas it is perhaps academic for most readers, the charge made by ADIF the Spanish Infrastructure company for moving a train through this magic device is €111.52 whereas the tunnel through the Pyrenees costs € 2000 per train.
The picture shows the overnight sleeper Talgo from Hendaye to Lisbon awaiting departure at Miranda de Ebro in north west Spain.
The writer is currently working with Spanish colleagues on a series of articles about the early Talgos series 2 for the magazine Correo and also with Asociacion Zaragozana de Amigos del Ferrocarril y Tranvias - AZAFT who are the owners of a fleet of Orient Express type carriages based in Zaragoza and Canfranc. The plan is to nurse this fleet back into a state of repair for the benefit of those who cannot afford to travel on the luxury trains of the same name, Hercule Poirot beware!
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