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The history of the Transcantabrico train
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The history of the Transcantabrico train

Welcome to our page about the history of the Transcantabrico train. Here you will find a detailed narrative about how this luxury train became one of the most renowned train tourism products in Spain and other countries around the world.

The Transcantabrico train was founded in 1983 with the aim of offering a unique train travel experience through the most stunning landscapes of northern Spain. Over the years, the train has been renovated and modernized to provide a luxury service to its passengers.

On this page, you will learn how the Transcantabrico train has become one of the most prestigious tourist trains in the world and how it has evolved over the years.

We hope you enjoy your journey through the history of the Transcantabrico train.

The beginning of its history

In 1983, a team of experts from Feve, with Fernando de Esteban as the company’s president, had the innovative and brilliant idea of ​​creating a cruise on rails aboard the mythical train of northern Spain.
The 1-meter wide track makes possible a journey as surprising as the landscapes that can be seen from its windows, full of contrasts between green and blue, the sea and the mountains.

The idea was to “create a train that would treasure, on the one hand, the landscapes and territories it traveled, and on the other hand, that would be a stimulus capable of creating a new image both externally and internally for the company.”

Once the idea was defined, the launch of the train was achieved in just 4 months thanks to the effort that both the staff of companies Ateinsa and Temoinsa, among others, and Feve professionals, made to transform old carriages from the 1920s and 1930s from the Vascongados Railways, in disastrous condition, into an elegant hotel on wheels composed of four cars that was completed in July 1983.

Inaugural Journey

That same month, an inaugural journey was made, covering the La Robla – Cistierna – León itinerary. In the capital of León, state, regional, and local authorities gathered to celebrate the event and greet an initiative that had amazed both the local population and the rest.
The first passenger journey between León and Ferrol took place shortly thereafter, a route that crossed the north of Castilla and León to then reach Vizcaya and then advance along the entire coast of the Cantabrian Sea to Galician lands.

Thus, the usual route of the Transcantabrico train was consolidated, linked to two paths of Jacobean pilgrims: the French Way, through Castilian and Leonese lands, and the Northern Way or Coastal Way, along the coast. During the eighties, the train became known, both nationally and internationally.

The Change of the 90s

In the nineties, a substantial change in the route of the Transcantabrico train began. Much of the La Robla Railway route, from Bercedo in Burgos to Matallana in León, was closed to passenger trains for safety reasons, given the deplorable state of the track. In 1993, the section from Matallana to Cistierna, in León, was reopened, and in 1994, from the latter to Guardo, in Palencia, thanks to the agreement between the then Ministry of Transport, the Junta of Castilla y León, and the Feve company.
Meanwhile, the Transcantabrico train had defined a new route. Now, the trains upon arriving in Bilbao did not turn inland as in previous years, but continued to San Sebastián, using the Euskotren route, the railway of the Basque Autonomous Community. Despite the evident appeal of the capital of Guipúzcoa, the train would have to return to the La Robla railway one day, as this route was already part of its identity.

Inclusion of a Suite-equipped Car

The Transcantabrico train continued to improve its services and possibilities, as well as its implementation. In 1998, Feve built the first car equipped with four suite compartments, since until then passengers had stayed in compartments with bunk beds, sharing a common bathroom for every three rooms.
The demand for the Transcantabrico train grew throughout the nineties, a consequence of the improvement in services and a greater specialization of tourist and hospitality services.

To cover this increase in demand, the Transcantabrico II train was built in the Feve workshops in Asturias, a “twin brother” that doubled the number of seats. This new train was inaugurated on May 18, 2000, already from that period obtaining good results in its occupancy rates. Both trains cross each other halfway, approximately at the height of the town of Llanes in Asturias, creating an impossible and unique postcard in the world.

In 2002, Suites were Included

Technical improvements continued, and since 2002, all compartments of the Transcantabrico train became suites.
After a few years of declining demand, there was a recovery from 2004, which would not stop in the following years: in 2007, 2,500 passengers were achieved, with a 50% growth over 2003.

This significant increase was due, among other things, to a better use of vacant seats; greater dedication to the gastronomic offer offered along the route; a more ambitious commercial policy both nationally and internationally; the recovery of the figure of the Expedition Chief, suppressed in previous years; and, in general, the company’s continued effort to increase the care, benefits, and services offered to customers, who in a product of these characteristics, rightly demand high-quality services.

Transcantabrico Classic – Transcantabrico Grand Luxury

It was in 2010 when an important decision was made for the company, on the one hand, it was decided to convert one of the train’s cars, with four compartments, into one with only two compartments, the suites, a space of great luxury never seen on Spanish railways. In this way, the known as Transcantabrico, became 2 different train units, on the one hand, the Transcantabrico Classic and on the other, the Transcantabrico Grand Luxury. The renovated train was made from the first composition of the train, the oldest one. The new train, developed on the seven sleeper cars, only has 14 compartments, compared to the 28 of the standard branch of the Transcantabrico. That is, only 28 passengers travel on each train (up to a maximum of 33 in case of triple use of some suites), compared to the 54 passengers of the Transcantabrico Classic. All the finishes of the trains are of high quality, highlighting the noble woods that cover the interior of the cars.
In May 2011, the Transcantabrico Grand Luxury was launched, a new concept of rail tourism, a very important event that placed Spain and together with the Al Ándalus train at the forefront of tourist trains in the world.

Obtained Certifications

Proof of these improvements was the obtaining in 2005, maintained and supported in the following years, of two certifications that endorse the excellence of the Transcantabrico train: the “Q” for Quality awarded by the Spanish Tourism Quality Institute, ICTE, concerning the hospitality aspect of the train; and ISO 1900/2000 certification, which guarantees good customer service, accredited by BVQI, a world leader in quality certifications. These certifications are accompanied by several awards, including the International Tourism, Hospitality, and Gastronomy Trophy “New Millennium Award”.

During the years 2020 and 2021, the Transcantabrico train remained inactive due to the Covid19 pandemic, and finally in the year 2022, it resumed its journey again normally, during which the Transcantabrico Clásico train transformed into the Costa Verde Express, starting a new version of the Transcantábrica Route, while the Transcantabrico Grand Luxury train continues to perform its traditional route between San Sebastián and Santiago de Compostela and vice versa.

The Costa Verde Express will feature 23 Gran Clase rooms with a capacity for 46 people in this new version.

On this website, you will find information about the itineraries and routes offered by the Transcantabrico train, as well as the services and amenities it offers to its passengers.