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The "Sud Express" was formed at the beginning of the 20th century. Together with the "Nord Express", it offered a direct link between Saint Petersburg, Russia and Lisbon, Portugal. For many years, a branch of the Sud Express provided service to the cities of Madrid, Spain, and Oporto, Portugal.
On 11 September 1985, a Sud Express train collided head-on with another train near Moimenta-Alcafache station. The locomotives exploded and the train, carrying about 400 passengers, immediately caught fire. Forty-nine deaths were officially confirmed, most caused by the fire, although unofficial estimates put the number of deaths between 100–150. A memorial was erected on site.
The service today
With the 1989 opening of the LGV Atlantique, the direct service was discontinued in favour of a (faster) combination of two different trains. The original connection from and to Paris is now made with one TGV to Irun and from Hendaye (the twin border towns on opposite sides of the French/Spanish border).
The continuing Sud Express runs as a night train from Irun at the French/Spanish border to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Hendaye. Until April 2010, facilities existed for 2nd class seated accommodation, 2nd class couchette cars (6-bunk compartments), and 1st class private sleeping compartments for 1, 2 or 3 passengers.
First class passengers traditionally find a bar of chocolate and a small bottle of port in their compartments upon boarding the train. Dinner is served in a well-appointed dining and bar car, which also serves a continental breakfast the following morning.
The Portuguese Government's strategic plan for transport, published in October 2011, envisaged the withdrawal of the Sud Express. The service (as of January 2018) has so far survived, and in October 2012, the Sud Express service was modified to include a connecting CP service to Porto and Aveiro as well as retaining the direct route to Lisbon.
Since 25 April 2018, the southbound Sud Express starts from Hendaye, due to the fact that SNCF TGV don't run to Irun anymore.