Although the railway network was severely reduced in the early 1990's, it is still possible to travel by train between most of the major cities. However, apart from the main Lisbon - Porto line, long distance services are neither regular nor frequent, with perhaps only four or five trains per day on some routes. Inter Regional and Regional services operate on secondary lines. Lisbon and Porto have local suburban networks with ticketing integrated with local trams and buses.
Most train services in Portugal are operated by the state railway company CP - Comboios de Portugal.
The Government's 2011 austerity budget called for the closure of some 700km of passenger rail lines. This included those lines where service had already been 'temporarily' suspended. Lines closed in January 2012 were the lightly used regional routes Abrantes - Elvas - Badajoz and Funcheira - Beja plus local services and many small stations between Setubal and Tunes, although intercity trains remain.
The last remaining CP narrow gauge line, between Aveiro and Espinho via Sernada da Vouga is also threatened with closure but is still partly operating in two sections, one from Aveiro to Agueda and the other from Espinho to Oliveira das Azaméis. From Agueda to Sernada da Vouga, there will be now only buses instead of trains until further notice. Between Sernada da Vouga and Oliveira das Azaméis two taxi runs are provided each day!
Most of the other narrow gauge railway lines in the north (the Tua, Corgo and Tamega lines) closed in 2009, leaving places such as Amarante, Vila Real and Mirandela without a rail link to the rest of the country. A very short section of line still operates around Mirandela, grandly named the 'Mirandela Metro'!
Many of the towns and villages once served by these lines have no bus service, nor is any provided to replace the rail lines.
You can get train times and fares in detail at the Portuguese Railways (Comboios de Portugal) website www.cp.pt and you can see the site in English https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en/ (or by clicking on 'EN' at the top right hand side of the portuguese page).
The site includes downloadable and printable timetables for all lines https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en/trai..., as well as a search on point to point timings for specific journeys.
The 'search' function is only available for journeys within the next 60 days. To see the times further ahead, download the printable timetable but check again later for any changes which are rarely announced more than two weeks in advance. If travelling around the Christmas and New Year period, the general pattern of service is this :
December 24th : normal service until about 2000hrs then most trains cancelled. On some regional lines a skeleton service operates all day.
December 25th : skeleton service until mid-day then a Sunday / holiday service applies in most areas, but some local and regional lines have only a skeleton service.
December 26th : this is not a holiday in Portugal therefore normal service applies according to the day of the week.
December 31st : similar to 24th December.
January 1st : same as December 25th.
Train services are also changed around the Easter holiday, but not to the same extent.
Do check timetables if planning to travel on Good Friday, when a Sunday service usually operates.
Finally, it is important to be aware that Portuguese holidays are always on the given date, for example Liberation Day is always 25th April and Portugal Day is always 10th June. Don't be caught out by a midweek holiday, when trains run to Sunday times.
ALFA Pendular trains run at high speed between major cities and are more expensive than the slower Intercity trains that make more stops
Seat reservation is compulsory on all Alfa Pendular (AP) and InterCity (IC) long distance trains, also on the fast 'CELTA' trains between Porto and Vigo (Spain). For the Porto - Vigo trains, reservations can only be made at the SPANISH railways website www.renfe.com
DO NOT use Rail Europe, Eurail or similar ticket agencies to buy tickets for Portuguese Alfa Pendular or Intercity trains. These agencies cannot issue the required seat reservations. These you will have to arrange for locally (at the station) and pay extra. Always buy tickets at www.cp.pt and nowhere else.
On line reservations open 60 days before travel. You have to fill a registration form to be able to buy the ticket online. You print your own ticket, so must have access to a printer. You can also have your ticket sent by SMS (text) to any mobile phone once it is registered with the site.
You are also required to enter some form of ID number eg passport, so have that to hand.
Tickets can be bought at the station up to the last minute, but if the train is full you will have to wait for the next one, which might be tomorrow. Long distance trains are particularly busy on Friday evenings, Sunday evenings and around major holidays. The Lisbon - Porto line is busy at all times.
There is a 40% discount offered on many ong distance train tickets when reservations are made more than five days in advance. Even bigger discounts are available at certain times on some routes. These special fares are only listed when you have chosen which train you waish to take, so it may be worth loking at different times if you are flexible about then to travel.
These discounted tickets are not refunded if the booked train is not taken. They can be revalidated for a different train if seats are available. In that case the difference between the discounted ticket and full fare will be charged plus an admin. fee.
There is now the option to use Paypal when buying AP and IC tickets.
People aged 65+ can get 50% discount (ID card or passport as proff of age). People aged 60+ can get 25% discount on international trains (Lisitânia, Sud Expresso and Celta).
Aged up to 25 (inclusive) 25% discount on all Alfa Pendular, Intercidades and Regional train tickets in any class, any day of the week (proof of age). These tickets can be reissued or refunded.
Once you have chosen the train you want and selected the number of
people travelling, the payments page will open. Even children require an
ID as proof (of age) which for most visitors will be a passport number. Children under 5 and NOT occupying a seat (ie who sit on their parent's lap) travel
free and do not need a ticket, so do not count them. A child under 5 and occupying a seat needs a reservation and will pay the half fare as below.
Using the English version of the site, there you will see the third column on the payments page says 'Full Price' which is the adult ticket but if you click on the drop down arrow beside it, a menu opens up for various discounted tickets including tickets for children aged 5 to 12 or 13 to 17.
The fourth column lists the price choices. Normal price is refundable etc if you do not travel but Promocão (special offer) tickets are not refunded but can be revalidated. The latter are available up to 5 days before travel and may be limited in number for certain trains.
If travelling to or from PORTO CAMPANHÃ, COIMBRA - B or various stations in LISBON, you do not need an extra ticket for the connecting CP train for the city centre. Details are clearly stated when the ticket is printed.
It is now possible to buy tickets on line for a complete journey where Alfa Pendular (AP) or Intercity (IC) trains are involved. The full range of destinations / origins has not been checked! It is not possible to book on line for trips starting or ending on the Lisbon Urban network eg Sintra, Estoril and Cascais. Separate tickets are required which can only be purchased locally.
Seats for local trips on Inter-regional, regional trains and 'urbanos' can neither be reserved nor can tickets be purchased in advance.
Urbanos (suburban) trains operate around Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra. These have special tariffs connected with local metro, tram and bus services. Tickets bought for these trains cannot be used on other services. Various 'metro' passes and tickets are generally valid and include metro (subway / underground) trains, trams and buses in the city concerned. Check for details at the websites listed below under 'other rail operations'.
Suburban trains between Lisbon, Pragal, Coina, Pinhal Novo and Setubal, across the 25 April bridge, are operated by a private company called Fertagus. CP tickets are not valid, however the Lisbon 'zapping' ticket pass is now valid. Their website is www.fertagus.pt
The daily international train between Lisbon and Madrid, also between Lisbon and Hendaye via Valladolid and Vítoria are operated by RENFE, the Spanish Railway. On line booking is only available via the RENFE website www.renfe.es. Otherwise, in Portugal, it is necessary to go to a railway station with an international ticketing facility.
Train travel in Portugal is not expensive in comparison with many European countries. Sample tourist class (2nd class) one way April 2016. A big discount is offered on many long distance tickets purchased more than 5 days in advance. Those aged 25 or under can purchase any ticket at a 25% discount on production of suitable photo ID. Those over 65 travel half price on production of suitable photo ID:
Lisbon - Porto ALFA Pendular €30,30 InterCity €24,30
Lisbon - Albufeira ALFA Pendular €21,20 InterCity €20,20
Tickets for the trains below cannot be purchased on line or in advance
Porto - Braga or Guimarães Urbanos €3.10 (by AP train €14,20!)
Lisbon - Sintra or Cascais €2.15 you can also use some of the Lisbon transport passes on these lines which also reduces the fare.
Faro - Lagos €7.30
First class where available is about 30% more than standard class.
Lisbon Metro (underground/subway) trains website http://metro.transporteslisboa.pt/
Porto Metro (trams/light rail) trains website www.metrodoporto.pt
Metro Sultejo (trams/light rail) around Pragal, Cacilhas, Corroios etc www.mts.pt
Metropolitano - Linha do Tua - Mirandela local train - http://www.cm-mirandela.pt/index.php?...
Portugal is almost completely isolated from the rest ot the European rail network.
There is one train each day between Madrid and Lisbon. This runs overnight and is operated by RENFE (Spanish Railways) as the Lusitânia Comboio Hotel. All on line reservations must be made at the RENFE website www.renfe.com tickets can also be purchased at Portuguese stations with international ticketing facilities.
The Sud Express (Lisbon - Hendaye northbound and Írun - Lisbon southbound) runs overnight in both directions. This train is also operated by RENFE and runs combined with the Lusitânia Comboio Hotel between Lisbon and Medina del Campo.
Principal stops are Coimbra - B, Guarda, Vilar Formosa, Medina del Campo then via Avila to / from Madrid and via Salamanca, Valladolid, Burgos, San Sebastian to Hendaye. There is a connecting train between Porto and Coimbra - B in both directions via Aveiro.
The northbound train runs to Hendaye for connections into France. The southbound train starts on the Spanish side of the border at Írun. Connecting trains from France are available.
The only other trains across the Portugal / Spain border is the twice daily CELTA service between Porto and Vigo, plus two local trains each way between Vigo and Valença.
All Alfa Pendular (AP) trains have wifi available at no extra cost. Intercity trains are being progessively fitted with wifi equipment. However in rural areas travellers will be periodically out of reach of any 3G signal, so be prepared to be without wifi for periods of up to 30 minutes.
Other trains do not have wifi. Travellers without their own smartphone etc will have to endure some fairly long trips without being on line.
All long distance trains have overhead luggage racks. All but the biggest bags will fit. There are additional luggage racks at the end of each carriage. Those on Alfa Pendular trains have a keylock one can rent for 50 cents. Travellers can always use their own locks.
Some intercity trains also have additional luggage space in the centre of each carriage.
Travellers are responsible forgetting their own luggage on and off trains. There is no assistance available at stations, but fellow travellers are always willing to help.
InterRegional, Regional and suburban trains have no dedicated luggage space within the cars, nor do many have overhead racks. On many Regional trains there is a baggage compartment at one end of the train, ideal for oversized bags, bikes, surfboards etc Take care if using that area as it is unsupervised.