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Trains in Italy: Possible Problems

Alice Twain

Non Validated Tickets or Traveling Without Tickets

Travelers found traveling without tickets or with non validated tickets (with the exception of the Eurostar tickets) will be fined 25 euro. Always make sure that you have validated your ticket, as explained in the At the Station section. If you could not validate your ticket, start looking for a conductor as soon as you board the train and explain the situation to him. See the Onboard Tickets section for further information.

Delays

The most common problem with Italian trains are delays. They occur mainly in traffic intense periods, like at Christmas or Easter, but can happen any time of the year.

If your train is late and you are supposed to take another train which is the last for the day for your final destination, you can ask the conductor to ask the correspondent train to wait for you. This can sometimes be done if it does not cause further train delays.

A few years ago I happened to be traveling with a French couple who had to take a train to Paris in Milano, but our train had a 35 minute delay, and they risked missing their train to Paris by ten minutes, which meant having to sleep in Milano. We talked to the conductor and he requested that the Paris train wait for us, so that the French couple could make that train. But, this is never done if you have other train possibilities, even if you are going to miss a train on which you have booked a seat.

Also, if you are traveling on an Eurostar train or on an Intercity train with a seat reservation and your train is badly late (25 minutes for Eurostars or 30 minutes for Intercities), you can request a partial refund of the ticket (50% for Eurostars and 30% for Intercities). To do so, you will have to fill a short form, add the Eurostar ticket or Intercity ticket and reservation, put it all in an envelope and either leave it at the ticket office, at one of the yellow boxes you can find at the station or mail it to the arrival station.

The forms are in Italian only, but we have provided a bilingual form with short instructions on how to fill it in PDF format (see link below). The refund is not given in cash: you will be issued a bonus valid for six months for the purchase of other Trenitalia tickets, so if you are planning to return to Italy and travel by train bring along a couple bonus request forms and hope to catch at least a train that's running late ^_^.

Click here to open the translation of this bonus form (in PDF format). Right click and select "Save Target As" to download a copy to your computer. Print one and bring it with you on your trip.

Theft

Theft on trains is not as common as many people think, but it does occur. The most common theft technique, used mainly by junkies and other non professional thieves, is to make a survey of the train after the passengers have left at the train's destination station. These kind of thieves collect forgotten bags and umbrellas and try to find anything that is worth selling. Other thieves will try to steal bags and suitcases left on the main racks at the end of the car.

Night trains are the most dangerous when it comes to thievery. On these trains it has been reported that robbers spray a gas on the sleeping passengers to make them sleep even deeper so that they can steal their belongings.

To prevent acts of thievery, the most efficient thing to do is be extra attentive of your belongings. Never leave your bags unguarded except in a crowded car or cabin, and never for more than a few minutes. If you are traveling with partners, one of you should always stay with the bags while the other is away. Many travelers like to bring chains and locks to secure the bags to the racks, be it the larger ones at the end of the car or the overhead ones. Also, having smaller bags that you can fit on the overhead racks or in the spaces between the opposite seats helps, since you are less likely to lose track of them.

Finally, when traveling at night, keep your valuables in a money belt or simply rolled in a tissue and hidden under your clothes.

Police

Polfer is a section of the Italian police that deals specifically with railways (trains and stations). There is a Polfer station in every medium sized or main Italian railway station. Both acts of thievery and other crimes can immediately be reported to the conductor. If there is any hope of catching the culprit on the train, the conductor will request two Polfer officers jump on the train: usually, the trains stops at the first station with available officers for just the time needed for the officers to get on the train.

Lost bags

If you accidentally leave a bag on a train, you can do the following:

  • If the train is continuing on its route, ask someone at your arrival station to contact the train and have the conductors look for your lost property; if they find it, it will be sent with another train to the station of the town where you are staying, so that you can pick it up;
  • If you got off the train at its final destination, contact the lost and found office, but the possibilities for you to find your lost properties are minimal (see above "Theft").

Strikes

Railway and other workers of the same kind of service (local transit, air travel, etc.) are subject to strict rules about strikes. These must be announced two weeks in advance, cannot last for more than 24 hours and can never occur in July and August, in the last week of December and the first week of January, in the days immediately before and after Easter and before and after a voting day.

Also, some trains must always travel, even when the railway workers are on strike, to grant a minimal service. Yet, since the railway workers are split on a huge number of trade unions, railway strikes are common.

Since the strikes must be announced in advance, there are no surprise strikes. To be informed on strikes, check the Seek Italy Travel Alerts page before departure.
www.seekitaly.com/news/from_roma.html#alerts

Occupied reserved seat

If you have reserved a seat on an Eurostar or Intercity train and someone is occupying it and, on request and showing of the reservation ticket, will not give you your seat, the first thing to do is to check whether you are requesting to sit in the right seat. Just like "if computer does not turn on, check if it is connected to the electricity, if it is not, insert the plug": it may sound silly, but I have several times asked someone to leave a seat only to discover that it was his seat and not mine because I was on the wrong train or car. And I am a native and frequent railway traveler! So, first thing, make sure everything is alright with your ticket.

If you are on the right rain, on the right car and you are requesting the right seat, check if the other traveler has a reservation: he may be the one in the wrong seat.

On extremely infrequent cases, ticket offices and travel agencies happen to issue a reservation twice. In this case ask the conductor to be assigned another seat.

Finally, if the other traveler does not have a reservation, but he still does not want to leave the seat you have booked, talk to the conductor: the traveler will be issued a quite large fine. If needed the conductor will also ask the Polfer on the train to check the traveler's documents.


Written by Alice Twain, a regular on the Slow Travel Forums. Alice is Italian and lives in Milan. Read her blog in Italian: A Typesetter's Day 3.0. See her Slow Travel Member page.

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