It may sound like a good idea initially, but a realistic look at the facts, costs and passenger potential leaves only one conclusion. It’s time for a reality check.

The first consideration has to be, is there a high enough demand for such a link? Is there potential to justify the investment in creating this link? We already have a superb motorway connection, uninterrupted, between the Algarve and Seville. I have travelled that route many times, its two hours to Seville and I have never seen the road overcrowded. If I am Spanish planning to take a vacation in the Algarve, I would want to bring my car, why should I rent on arrival? It’s no great distance and all the Spanish section is toll free.

From Albufeira there are at least three express coaches a day to Seville, prices can start as low as €15. These are rarely full.

Is there a demand for this route

To even be vaguely viable, there would need to be hundreds of passengers for each train. There is no doubt that there is a big demand for the possibility of travelling from Northern Europe to Portugal by high-speed train. The route will be via Madrid and Lisbon. That route is already in construction or in full operation. According to the EU, all elements necessary for commissioning the 178.6 km Plasencia-Cáceres-Badajoz section of the Madrid-Lisbon high-speed railway are being put into place under an EU-funded project. The track is being assembled; the line is being electrified; and safety, signalling, telecommunications and auxiliary installations are being set up.

Construction of the high-speed line – which will form part of the Atlantic Corridor of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) – will improve transport infrastructure in Spain. It will align it more closely with the rest of Europe as regards aspects such as track gauge, thereby increasing rail interoperability. Lisbon to the Algarve already has a high-speed rail service.

Lisbon Porto in one hour 15 minutes

Speaking at the Portugal Railway Summit 2021 in January, Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Pedro Nuno Santos used these words to describe the government’s decision to revive the Porto-Lisbon high-speed line, which will connect Portugal’s two biggest cities in about one hour and 15 minutes, cutting travel times in half.

One ‘issue’ seems to be that the international rail station in Lisbon is Santa Apolónia, and the Portuguese high-speed network is built around the Orient station next to the old expo site. There is a ten minute metro rail connection between the two, three trains an hour but two terminals in Lisbon is a potential problem for a nonstop through service from Madrid. Despite that, there seems little doubt that Lisbon will be the international rail hub for Portugal.

Seville - Faro reality check

The existing rail connection between Seville and Huelva is operational but not high speed. From Huelva to Ayamonte is another matter altogether. The line was finished just as the Spanish Civil War started; it was seized by the rebels in August 1936 who put it to military use, the line was eventually opened for civilian use, both passengers and freight, in early 1940. The line was closed to traffic in 1987 and the track was later removed.

To convert this old disused ‘path’ to a high-speed rail line would be a project running into billions, even if that route was suitable. Then you have the ‘minor’ problem of skirting Ayamonte and getting over the river. Then Portugal would have to convert the existing line from Vila Real to Faro to high-speed capacity. Let’s be realistic, Lisbon will be the international rail hub, with connections to high speed rail to the South and North.

It’s a dream but not a reality

From the early XXth Century, Portugal had been looking for a link with Spain at the South of the peninsula. In line with this policy, a Portuguese government decree promised generous subsidies to any firm prepared to operate a railway between Huelva and Ayamonte. However, all work on the line stopped when just over 10 percent of the amount budgeted had been spent because of the Great War. Now we have a motorway.

The Connecting Europe Express

Last September, with little publicity, the 'Connecting Europe Express' pulled out of Lisbon station on a five week journey that stopped in more than 100 towns and cities. This special train was aimed at highlighting the challenges preventing rail from being a more popular travel choice for Europeans. It stopped in 26 countries and clocked up a distance of 20,000 kilometres, finishing in Paris on October 7. Every sign is that Lisbon will be the high-speed rail hub in the near future. The European Commission declared 2021 as the Year of the Rail to celebrate people exploring by train. It will become a more viable and attractive as an alternative to air travel.

An irrelevant foot note

Only the most devoted rail travel fans will find this attractive, but last week it was announced you can now travel from Lagos to Singapore by train. 99% of our readers would prefer high speed London to Portugal, but to know more follow this link.

Meanwhile, forget about Seville to Faro by rail, at best it’s a dream. It’s not viable or needed. What you can look forward to is Northern Europe to Portugal, fast, comfortable and a really attractive travel possibility.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman