Could the Madrid to Lisbon night train make a return?

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Could the Madrid to Lisbon night train make a return?
Could the Madrid-Lisbon sleeper train return in 2024? (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

Members of the Spanish government’s new junior coalition partner Sumar have called for the sleeper train that once connected Madrid with Lisbon before it was halted during the Covid-19 pandemic to make a return. 


Members of Spain’s new hard-left party in government Sumar have officially lodged the proposal in Spain’s Parliament in the hope of restoring the only direct rail link between the two Iberian capitals.

Sumar MPs Júlia Boada and Fèlix Alonso wrote in the document that the discontinued night service "is something that many citizens on both sides of the Spanish-Portuguese border are waiting for".

According to the party headed by Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, there are numerous groups, platforms, political parties and voices among Portuguese and Spanish authorities who are "firm supporters" of recovering this railway connection.


It would not only have environmental benefits by reducing the number of flights between Spain and Portugal, Sumar argues, it would also result in the improvement of economic and commercial relations between the Iberian neighbours.

There is currently no direct rail route between Madrid and Lisbon, a situation that hasn't changed since the early days of the pandemic in 2020 when Spain's Renfe decided to get rid of the sleeper train.

In fact, Madrid and Lisbon are the only two European capitals that are not linked by high-speed networks.

READ MORE: Why are there so few trains between Spain and Portugal?

That means that you now need to change trains at least twice if not three or four times to travel between Madrid and Lisbon by rail. The fastest connection takes around nine hours and of these, there are three per day. 

By contrast, it takes seven hours by bus to go from Madrid to Lisbon, or six hours by car.

Other rail connections between Spain and Portugal are no better. For example, if you want to get from the coasts of Andalusia to the Algarve via public transport, you have to take a bus as there aren’t any trains.

The only two existing direct connections between both nations are between Vigo and Porto, and Badajoz and Entroncamento.


There was another sleeper train between Lisbon and Hendaye in France (with stops in San Sebastian and Irún in northern Spain) but this was also discontinued as a result of the pandemic.

The issue of poor rail links between Spain and Portugal has been ongoing for decades. 

Portuguese authorities have at times prioritised better links with Galicia - the northwestern Spanish region sitting right on top of Portugal - over a faster service to Madrid. 

There’s also been plenty of political wrangling and a lack of commitment to complicated and expensive high-speed rail projects. 

What seems clear is that Spain’s and the EU’s overall push to improve their railway network and with it increase the number of users could be the spark needed for the Madrid-Lisbon sleeper to hit the tracks again.

Spain’s national rail operator Renfe launched two new high-speed links to France last July, from Barcelona to Lyon and Madrid to Marseille. 

Renfe’s next international objective is to reach Paris from Barcelona by the summer of 2024, and the Catalan capital could also join the Nightjet sleeper network that connects many cities across Europe, with a direct night train to Geneva. 

READ MORE: What are the changes to travel in Spain in 2024?

For Sumar, Spain is falling behind at a time when sleeper trains such as Paris-Nice, Bratislava-Split and Berlin-Brussels are being promoted as easier and more environmentally friendly travel options that flying.

The hard-left party has also been pushing for domestic flights between nearby locations in Spain to be banned, something airline associations have deemed unfeasible without the appropriate rail link alternatives. 



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