Considering the low price, train travel in Italy is a deal. The manageable size of the country and the obstacles to driving”high cost, persistent traffic, and highway dangers”make it the default method of transportation for many Italians and almost every foreigner. The state railway, or Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), offers three major types of trains: the Interregionale, which stops in virtually every town along the way; the Intercity, which connects only the principal stations; and the Eurostar, the high-speed link that stops at the biggest cities. On the Rome Milan route, for example, most Eurostars will pick up and drop off passengers only in Florence and Bologna. It costs about ‚50 for a second-class seat and takes four and a half hours. An Intercity train will make about 10 stops on the same trip, taking six hours and costing about ‚10 less. Rome to Milan on an Interregionale would require anywhere from eight hours to an eternity, depending on the route it takes, but nobody would voluntarily subject himself or herself to a crosscountry voyage on a string of local trains.
If the Italian railways have a bad reputation in Europe, it is due less to delays than to the carriages’ decrepit appearance. Switching from a French regional train to an Italian one is like going back 40 years in time. The air-conditioning might very well be turned off when it is needed most” such as when the train is stopped inexplicably in the middle of nowhere for 20 minutes”and yet Italian passengers just shrug their shoulders and bear it. Summer travelers who would describe themselves as impatient people should avoid the Intercity or Interregionale at all costs.
The Eurostar is the most luxurious way to ride. It was developed as an answer to France’s TGV, replacing the pendolino (tilting train) of the 1980s, and can reach speeds of 300 kilometers per hour. The country is still hoping to open more high-speed links in the North (which in this economy could be an uphill battle.) The Eurostar does break down occasionally”eight times in one recent summer” but it is the most reliable Italian train in terms of getting there on time, mostly because cheaper trains normally give it the right of way. Official estimates say the Eurostar arrives within 15 minutes of schedule 92 percent of the time. If it is more than 25 minutes late, passengers are entitled to a partial refund.
Unlike on the Intercity and Interregionale versions, you won’t find people cramming the aisles and gangways on a Eurostar. Reserved seating is required, and spots will be snatched up by Thursday night for busy Friday afternoon departures. Buying a ticket on any train requires that you pay an extra penalty, so reserving a seat beforehand is recommended. Even with a ticket in hand, you should turn up at the station at least 10 minutes before departure. Jumping onto a train at the last minute can end in disaster. the slow train to Venice
I remember beginning an Intercity train ride on a steamy summer day in Rome. As I competed for oxygen in the crowded gangway, a man in a suit leapt into the carriage as it was leaving the platform. As he muscled out the last square inch of floor space, he asked if the train was headed to Naples. As it turned out, it was headed for Florence. He was trapped for an hour going in the wrong direction. What followed was a lengthy tutorial in the fine art of Neapolitan cursing. When planning a trip, start with the FS website (www.trenitalia.it). Punch in your departure station, arrival station, and the date, and it will list all the possible trains in the following 24 hours. This is a lot quicker than running through the timetables or asking at the information office at the station, especially if you’re making a series of connections. For many of the routes, you can buy your ticket directly from the website.
Anything is better than going to the ticket window at the train station. There are often huge lines, especially on the weekends, as only a fraction of the available windows are open at any given time. Aside from the website, other alternatives are to buy your ticket at any travel agency or at the machines at the station. The people who usually end up at the ticket windows are those with lengthy questions about connections, discounts, or refunds. There are numerous ways to save money on train fares. One is by proving you are a student or a senior citizen. Another is to buy a green card, which is like a frequent-flyer membership that offers massive discounts on weekends. Finally, before you board the train, remember to stamp your ticket in the little yellow machines on the platform. Otherwise, the conductor will assume you’re scheming to use it again.