BY ROGER WILLIAMS
Cutting a swathe across its great plains, Spain’s national high-speed railway is graced by the magnificent AVE trains, operating at speeds that make long journeys literally fly by. Roger Williams takes a closer look at train operator RENFE and its onboard services
During the last 25 years Spain’s state-owned RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles) has gained massive inward investment from the EU, helping create the longest national high-speed network in Europe with over 3,100km/hr of track.
The distinctive Talgo 102 AVE design, with its ‘duck head’ shape, is probably the most spectacular looking train in Europe but for speed it is beaten into second place by the 350km/hr (220mph) Siemens 103 AVE.
These flagship services, plus other intercity trains called Alvia, Altaria and Euromed, connect iconic Spanish cultural centres such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Seville and Zaragoza.
Catering is available on all trains and AVE’s meals are provided for First Class (Preferente) Sunday to Friday (but not Saturdays), whilst a retail cafeteria and mobile trolley serves Economy (Turista) customers seven days a week.
Multifunctional services company Ferrovial holds the €253m four-year onboard contract until 2017, with a possible €121m extension to 2019, and works with current food partner Serunion, part of the Elior Group, which offers the use of Michelin-star chefs to assist in RENFE’s menu development.
At the recent International Rail Catering Group conference in Madrid RENFE stated that over 1.9 million meals were served in 2015, with year-on-year growth of 16%, and identified a rising trend in ‘special’ meals being pre-ordered via their website, up 58% on 2015. With customers needing to pre-select these meals at least 24 hours in advance, it demonstrates how important personalised catering is becoming to rail passengers.
The 10 special menus offered by RENFE include gluten-free, low-sodium, diabetic, halal, kosher, celiac, children’s and vegetarian, and give a much broader selection than offered onboard. The approach seems to be working as RENFE confirms that in 2015 they saw a 0.43 increase in customer satisfaction levels to 7.83/10.