Engineering Rome

High speed rail in Italy (Kreed)

1. Introduction

Major cities in Italy are never far out of reach with the strong network of high speed rails branched throughout the country. As countries grow, the demand for connecting centers of commerce has never been higher. Today, many careers require travel away from home, and it becomes more vital to have a mode of transportation fast, and reliable. Thankfully, this demand for mass public transportation has been answered through the efficient methods of high-speed rails. The infrastructure has evolved over the past century. By experimenting with new techniques and receiving lots of financial support, a rail system that used to be slow, and inconsistent has been replaced by something people can depend on. In addition, there is a competitive atmosphere within the industry between the public sector, and the private sector. Many have speculated this competition to be lopsided, but if all else, it had lead to a higher quality experience amongst all passengers. It is also important to discuss a few geographical aspects of Italy that enable shorter travel times, and more direct railways. This article will provide you some insight on the development and continuing success of high-speed rail in Italy. It’ll also give rise to question regarding the rising modal split between trains, airplanes, and automobiles. Lastly, I will call upon my own experience from a passenger’s perspective in the hopes of encouraging others to partake in this engineering feat. Whether it be for its strategic north-south axis, or its surplus of big cities, Italy shows a promising future in the world of high-speed rail.


Figure 1 – Trenitalia ETR 500 Frecciarossa (Wikipedia)

2. History of High Speed Rail in Italy

The first high speed route, the Direttissima, in Italy was introduced in 1977, connecting Rome with Florence (Wikipedia-HSR in Italy). The top speed on the line was 250 km/h (160 mph), giving a total travel time of roughly 90 minutes. Following this, the high-speed service was introduced on the Rome-Milan line in 1988-89 with the ETR 450 Pendolino train. This was the first Italian train to demonstrate the tilting mechanism to resist inertia around corners. The prototype, ETR 500-X, nicknamed “Remo,” as the brother of the first Roman king, reached a record speed of 319 km/h (198 mph) (Wikipedia – HSR in Italy).

2.1 The First High Speed Rail, Direttissima

The ferrovia direttissima Firenze-Roma, meaning “most direct Florence-Rome railway” was the first high-speed line opened in Europe when half of it was opened for operation in 1977. The remaining half was finished by 1992. This new high-speed line cut the travel time from Rome to Florence to an hour and 20 minutes. The previous railway was developed by several different companies for different purposes, and as a result it was a curvy, slow travel between the two cities. It was not until after World War II that the project began. The line contains the largest viaduct in Europe spanning over 5,000 meters long, and crossing over the Paglia River. The line is a largely straight path containing material from the old track integrated throughout (Wikipedia-Direttissima).

2.2 Pendolino Train

The high-speed train, Pendolino, meaning “small pendulum” received its name due to its mechanism to tilt at bends (Railway Tech – Pendolino). Historically, high speed trains had to slow down when traversing curves in order to prevent passenger discomfort. This can be understood when considering inertia. Anyone who has sat in a car while whipping around a corner has felt his/her body lean one way while the car goes the other way. Now imagine sitting in a train that hits a corner going over a 100 mph. One practiced solution to this hazard is the installment of special tracks that can withstand such high speeds, however, this solution is expensive, and not as sustainable (CITE). The benefit of the Pendolino is that it can go around curves designed for slower trains without losing its speed. The mechanism consists of tilting the car bodies in the direction of the curve in order to reduce inertia of objects within the car (Wikipedia-tilting trains). Although this technology limits speeds up to 155 mph as opposed to 190 mph on standard high-speed trains, it allows a significantly faster travel on standard tracks.

3. Public Sector vs. Private Sector

There are two organizations that provide service for high-speed passenger trains. Trenitalia, owned by the Italian State Railway which is ultimately owned by the government, is the primary train operator in Italy. The other operator is Italo, a private organization developed by four businessmen, one being Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former CEO of Ferrari. Together, they combined to transport 64 million passengers in 2015 (Wikipedia-HS train Italy).

3.1 Trenitalia

The first one established was Trenitalia which came about in the year 2000. This is a government-owned operation that monitors the train transportation, and is partnered with the government-owned Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI) which monitors the infrastructure of the rail lines. Trenitalia is known to manage more than 9,000 trains, and to also transport over half a billion passengers per year (Trenitalia). In 2008, about 620 miles of new track were commenced on the Turin-Milan-Bologna-Rome-Naples-Salerno route that allow trains to reach speeds over 220 mph, although the existing railways can only withstand a maximum of 190 mph. Trenitalia has a large fleet of different high-speed trainsets including tilting and non-tilting trains. The newest trainset being implemented is the Frecciarossa 1000 which is a 200-m long eight car train with distributed traction technology (Wikipedia-frecciarossa 1000).
When purchasing a ticket aboard a Trenitalia train, you often have one of four levels of service to choose from: Standard, Premium, Business, and Executive. In summary: standard is the lowest-price option, premium has a higher level of comfort and services than standard, Business offers seats in Sitting Rooms in the Silence Area, and Executive offers the highest standards of quality with the option for served meals and drink when available (Trenitalia). Take a look at a Trenitalia Standard class car below in the left image in Figure 2:



Figure 2. Left: Trenitalia Standard Class. Right: Italo Comfort Class (Steven Tuttle)

As seen above, a Trenitalia Standard class car has a variety of seating arrangements, as well as table space, and overhead luggage space. Also consider the video below. This video depicts a typical experience riding business class on the Frecciarossa 1000 train. The video demonstrates the variety of benefits with riding business class including the additional space between chairs, the complimentary snacks and refreshments, as well as the access to the train cafe car.