There are two train networks in Cantabria, both with their principal stations in the Plaza de las Estaciones in Santander (opposite the bus station and a few minutes walk from the ferry port), RENFE and RENFE-FEVE. At the end of 2012 FEVE was taken over by RENFE, and is now officially RENFE-FEVE. The link to the website below is now the official site for FEVE trains.
The RENFE train route runs from north to south through Cantabria, and it runs two types of train, long distance TALGO trains and local Cercanias trains. The TALGO runs from Santander to Madrid, stopping at Torrelavega (the station is out of town by the motorway in Viernoles) and Reinosa in Cantabria and then on through Valladolid to Madrid. This same train actually runs on to Alicante and stops in between, so it is perfectly possible to do north coast to south coast in a day, which I have done once, and it was a very long but very relaxing journey. Tickets for these long distance trains are best bought in advance for cheaper fares, and they can be bought online on the RENFE website, or at stations. There are are also local RENFE trains, Cercanias, which run from Santander to Reinosa, and some on to Aguilar de Campoo in Palencia. These stop at all the local stations (some only on request) and it is a pleasantly picturesque train journey. Santander to Reinosa takes about an hour and a half (more or less the same as the bus) and the fares are very reasonable. Tickets for these trains should be bought at the station beforehand, or on the train where there is no ticket office at the station.
The other train network is the narrow gauge RENFE-FEVE, which runs several lines in Cantabria. The first goes from Santander to Cabezon de la Sal, via Torrelavega (trains every half an hour to Puente San Miguel, and every hour to Cabezon) (the FEVE station in Torrelavega is right in the centre of town, therefore if you want to get a train from Torrelavega to Santander, this is the one to get, not the RENFE), and is the main commuter train between Torrelavega and Santander. There are also twice daily trains on this line from Santander to Oviedo – a pretty if long train journey (much quicker and more frequent on the bus if you’re pressed for time), the train is slightly more upmarket than the standard commuter trains, but there is no first class. Other lines go from Santander to Lierganes (which incidentally has a Sunday market and makes a nice day trip), and there are three daily trains from Santander to Bilbao, although again, this journey is quicker by the more frequent bus (1hr compared to nearly 3hrs). The Santander-Lierganes and Santander-Astillero trains also run to the popular Valle Real shopping centre (locally just called Eroski, the name of the supermarket there). There is one further line which cuts through the very south of Cantabria, and runs from Bilbao to Leon, passing through villages on the south shore of the Ebro reservoir near Reinosa (it does not pass through Reinosa itself) and Mataporquera, where it is possible to connect with the Santander-Madrid RENFE line (the only point it is possible to do so). This line used to be a coal route, and there are now 2 trains daily. For more information, maps and timetables on all RENFE-FEVE trains.
Tickets for both FEVE and RENFE local trains can be bought at the station before boarding, and this is a requirement at some stations where there are automated ticket barriers (Santander for both trains, Torrelavega also for the FEVE). Many stations, even smaller stations, are now also equipped with small automatic ticket machines on the platform or just outside the station. At stations where the ticket office is closed or non-existant, tickets can be bought on the train.
For long distance RENFE trains tickets can be bought online in advance, often at a considerable discount if it’s more than 60 days before departure, and can also be bought at the station in Santander and some travel agents.
Be aware that at the moment, on international booking sites such as Rail Europe, the FEVE does not appear, as it cannot be booked in advance, however, as FEVE has just been taken over by RENFE, and is now known as RENFE-FEVE, I guess in the future this may change.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the Contactless Card from Transporte de Cantabria. This card initially costs 1.50€ and can be bought and charged up at most stations and some newsstands and tabacco shops. It allows the user to put between 10-300€ on the card and can be used on FEVE trains and Cercanias RENFE trains within Cantabria.
Circular Walks Using The Trains
There are many ways you could make circular walks using the various train stations in Cantabria. Two classics which I personally enjoyed doing were the Calzada Romana, part of the GR-73, using the RENFE Cercanias between Barcena Pie de Concha and Pesquera, and the PR-S33 Ruta de Montesclaros using the FEVE between Montesclaros and Llano.
If you’re looking for train holiday packages, FEVE also run several tourist trains. The Transcantabrico runs from Ferrol in Galicia to Bilbao (with coach links to Santiago de Compostela and San Sebastian), and crosses Cantabria from west to east. There are two classes, the Transcantabrico Clasico and the Transcantabrico Gran Lujo. There is also the El Expreso de la Robla train, which runs along the Leon-Bilbao line. For these trains tickets must be bought in advance online.