Traveling by railroad in Italy

5/1/2010

Generally, Italian cities and towns are accessible by trains, even the small ones. The city center is usually built around the train station or not far from it. The national train service is operated by Trenitalia, a. k. a. Ferrovie Dello Stato. The train system is better than the one in the U. S. as it reaches just about everywhere in Italy and is relatively economical. For care-free sightseeing, it’s probably the best choice as you don’t need to book in advance like the plane ticket or worry about a rental car, traffic, or parking.

Take Rome for example, the Roma Termini (Rome Terminals) is the main station and many hotels are available within a ten-minute walking radius. For example, at the Rome Fiumicino Airport, after getting your baggage and exit custom, follow the sign to the trains. Take the Leonardo Express train to go to Roma Termini (Rome Terminals, the main station). A ticket should cost about 14 euros one-way and you need to validate it before boarding (it’s advised to buy two so you don’t have to do it again later when you return). It should be about 30 to 40 minutes ride. Upon arrival, you can walk toward the main exit which is about five minutes away. When you go back to the airport from Rome, take the same train, which is usually located at track 25 or 26 of the Roma Termini.

Milano Centrale Stazione
Milan Central Station

At the train station, don’t let unkempt or seedy people approach to help you buy a ticket, unless they are young-looking and have visible sign of the Italian Communist Party (Partita Communista Italiana). Of course, there are nice people who are just trying to help, but they don’t ask you for money at the end of it. If asked for money, don’t give it. Though you can’t really blame them since the railroad employees are not readily available to answer your questions. There are several types of trains:

Eurostar – fast national or international train with few stops to reach a destination.

IC – Intercity – linking few cities in close to each other, it has many stops

R – Regional – Regional train that travels nationally from one region to another or within a region with many stops

Eurostar AV (Alta Velocita, also known as Freccia Rossa) – High speed, the fastest train available, also the most expensive.

Typical train departure schedule Italy
A departure schedule at Roma Termini

Finding your destination

To determine what train you should take before buying the ticket, you could stand in line and ask Trenitalia or look on the Departure Board. Your destination may not necessarily be the final destination of a train; however, it could be one of the stops. Therefore, always check both for the final destination and the stops to find where you want to go.

For example, let’s say you want to get to Caserta from Rome taking an ES (EuroStar) train, here is how to read the schedule:

Italian train schedule explained

So in this example, you should take the 16:45 train going to Lecce, and get off at the first stop in Caserta at 17:54. However, other times, your destination may be the final destination. In such case, you don’t get off until the train reaches it.

Locating your train

The track number is the number in the blue circle in the above schedule. You could also look on the bulletin board for “Lecce”, and find the track number. Most of the time, the track number is the same as published in the schedule. However, occasionally it may be changed, so double check it on the bulletin board, which looks like this:

Electronic train depature schedule bulletin board in Rome, Italy
 An electronic departure schedule bulletin board

BIN is an abbreviation for binario, which means the track number. So BIN 1 means track 1.

In case of delay, it will show a different time under OraEff., and “Ritardo” under Altro. If it is cancelled, it will show “Cancellato”.

Before boarding

An eurostar train ticket in Italy
Example of an Eurostar train ticket that does not need validation

For most train types, you need to validate the ticket before boarding. The validation is simply putting a timestamp on it. You never need to validate Eurostar tickets as you have a reservation. However, for all other types, you need to find a little yellow or green machine located at the beginning or alongside a track platform and validate it. You simply need to insert it to get it stamped. Not having it can cause the conductor to fine you depending on his mood. However, sometimes you may be running short of time and got on board without the validation. In such case you should approach the conductor to ask him to validate it for you and explain that you had no time and make sure you speak English and not Italian.

A typical train ticket validation machine
A train ticket validation machine

The website of Trenitalia, owned by the national rail company Ferrovie dello Stato is www.trenitalia.com

There is an alternative to Trenitalia, which is the privately owned high-speed rail company Italo, they serve several big cities in Italy: www.italotreno.it

 

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