In the rare occasion when a Spaniard boards a Spanish train, he's quite surprised to find lots of foreigners there, many more than in the more usual inter-city coaches. That's usually because trains are the transportation mean by default: they have country-wide timetables available, you can usually buy tickets from abroad, and it's quite easy to plan a trip from outside without needing to jump from one website to the next.
But trains are quite a mess in Spain. Metropolitan trains are quite good, and even mid-sized cities like Córdoba or Santander have a mesh of lines that link it to their closest dorm cities. High-speed trains are great, but you can only go from Seville to Madrid, and then to Barcelona. Some other services, mainly from Madrid to places like Málaga or Valencia are also fast and convenient, although a bit expensive (if you get lucky with a low cost company like Vueling
, you might save a bundle. But the rest is a mess. Going from Algeciras (in the lowest tip) to Barcelona can be a 18 hours ordeal. Almería to Santiago, don't even think of it. In all these cases, bus is probably faster, cheaper and, in some cases, even more comfortable.
Most rolling stock is also quite old. Retro-high tech Talgos
, and diesel trains are still going. Most stations seem derelict, closer to the demolition ball (or to being declared national monument) than to a functional, comfortable, place to wait between trains. And train stations in busy touristic cities like Granada get less daily trains than planes.
The national rail network has recently deregulated
, but no new operators seem to be working. Let's expect they find a niche and cover whatever the former monopoly leaves.
And, still, travelling by train is a pleasure. Even in Spain.