Iryo: The new high-speed trains in Spain make it the railway capital of Europe

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(CNN) What could be better than an extensive high-speed rail network? Three or four of the competition, which seem destined not only to improve the options of travelers, but also (hopefully) to lower prices.

Friday saw the launch of iryo, the latest company to enter Spain’s fast train market, which is already quite crowded. State-owned airline Renfe joined French-owned startup Ouigo in 2021 and, in response, quickly launched its own low-cost arm, Avlo.

With the arrival of iryo, that makes three official competitors, but four competing brands, which makes Spain the first country in Europe to have so many high-speed options.

Iryo is owned by a few major players: Italian state rail operator Trenitalia, Spanish infrastructure company Globalvia, and Air Nostrum, a Spanish airline.

Trenitalia has brought trains to Spain: no fewer than 20 Frecciarossa or “red arrow” trains, Italy’s flagship train, which can run at speeds of up to 223 miles per hour. Italy’s high-speed rail project is such a success that it played a role in the destruction of the national airline. So beware of Iberia.

Iryo started on Friday with operations between Madrid, Barcelona and Zaragoza, and will continue on December 16 with Madrid, Cuenca and Valencia. More routes await in 2023: connections to Seville, Malaga, Cordoba and Antequera on March 31, and Alicante and Albacete on June 2.

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The company has signed agreements to offer combined tickets and travel experiences with Cercanías (regional metros) and Air Europa. It will operate 30% of the high-speed services in Spain and intends to transport eight million passengers a year.

The trains, which are advertised as focused on “customization and flexibility,” have four classes of travel: the curiously named Initial, Singular, Singular Only You, and Infinite. Three of them are designed for business travelers, the company said in a statement, but all seats on board will have standard and USB power outlets, individual armrests and free 5G Wi-Fi.

The seats of the Singular Only You class.

The seats of the Singular Only You class.

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The onboard menu, Haezea (which means “wind” in Basque), will be full of seasonal ingredients and “healthy options,” prepared fresh, the company says.

A maiden voyage on Monday was attended by Spanish politicians. It was hailed as a “decisive step in the advance towards the new mobility in Spain” by Ximo Puig, president of the Generalitat Valenciana.

Frecciarossa trains will have four classes.

Frecciarossa trains will have four classes.

Robert Solsona/Europa Press/Getty Images

Trenitalia’s Luigi Corradi called the launch a response to the “environmental and social sustainability goals set by the European Union to improve travel in all countries.”

While Nick Brooks, Secretary General of ALLRAIL (the Alliance of Newcomers to Passenger Rail in Europe, representing independent passenger rail companies), said ahead of the launch: “It’s great to see open access services driven ​commercially, like iryo, – are making long-distance rail more attractive and steering commuters away from less sustainable modes of transport, namely airlines and cars.”

The group called for “competition between different operators on all high-speed rail routes in Europe” in a statement, calling companies like iryo “the future of passenger rail.”

Price-wise, taking December availability into account, tickets for the 382-mile, 2-hour, 45-minute journey from Barcelona to Madrid start at just €18 ($19), though most journeys cost around from €50. Driving between the two cities would take more than six hours.

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