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Trains in Italy: Finding Your Reserved Seat
On newer trains, seats are arranged in rows, like on a bus. Older cars have 6 seat cabins that you enter from the hallway. All Eurostar and Intercity Plus trains have the seats arranged in rows. Intercity trains have, for the most part, individual cabins, but some cars are structured in rows as well. Espresso trains all have cabins. Local trains (Interregionale, Regionale and Diretto) always have rows; some of them also have two decks cars.
Remember, if you are on a Eurostar train, you have a seat reservation (you cannot buy a Eurostar train ticket without getting a seat reservation).
Finding Your Reserved Seat
You have your tickets and reservations and you can read them. You have located your correct train. But how do you find the right seats on the train?
All cars of the train are marked with a 1 or 2 on the wall of the car. This means that the car is first or second class. First thing you have to do is to check which class you have booked and locate the first or second class cars. On most trains, first and second class cars are separated by the restaurant car.
The car number is written on the door or right beside it. Eurostar trains have these modern looking electronic boards stating the number of the car, beside the destination of the train and the class of the car. Older Intercity cars will have a plain scrap of paper with the car number stuck in the middle of the door's glass.
Once you have located the right car, you can start looking for your seat. The first part of the seat's number will tell you the cabin or row of seats where yours seat is, the last digit is the number of the seat itself. For example seat 36, like in the Prato-Milano reservation is seat number 6 in the third cabin. Seats 63 and 64 in the La Spezia-Rome reservation are the seats number 3 and 4 (facing each other) in the cabin number 6. Seats 33, 34, 37, and 38 in the Eurostar ticket are the seats 3, 4, 7, and 8 in the third row of the car (Eurostars don't have cabins).
A common habit on Italian trains is to switch places in the same compartment or row of seats. Sometimes, two people traveling together with reservations happened to be seated not together, though they are usually in the same row or cabin. In this case they ask to switch places with some other traveler. In such a case, you can agree or disagree (for instance because you are traveling with a companion too and the switch will cause you to travel separately).
Finding an Unreserved Seat
Starting January 2005, all Intercity trains have some seats that are not reserved. These seats are available for the travelers without a reservation. In any car, seats numbered 71 to 88 (second class) or 71 to 86 (first class) are available for travelers without seat reservations. These seats are occupied quite fast, so if you don't have a reservation make sure to be among the first to board the train so you can grab one of these seats.
All other seats in the car should be considered reserved. If the unreserved section is full, you can seat in any vacant seat, but you will have to give up the seat if someone who has reserved it arrives. They may get on at any station on your route. Sitting in the empty seat first, does not mean that seat is yours.
Seats may be only reserved for part of the train's itinerary. You may be traveling from Rome to Bologna and find a seat that's vacant from Rome to Florence alone, and is reserved from Florence until Piacenza. In this case, you can use the seat until Florence, after which you will have to give up the seat to the owner of the reservation. After Florence you will have to either look for another seat or just stand in the corridor for the rest of the trip.
Since reservations are not marked in any way, though, you cannot know whether a vacant seat not included in the non-reserved rows or cabins is not reserved, partially not reserved or fully vacant. This makes it hard for a traveler to determine which seats are not reserved, so you might want to purchase a seat reservation to make things easier. Or, when a seat in the non-reserved section becomes available, take it so you are sure of a seat for the rest of your trip.
An Historical Note - Yellow Reservation Tabs no longer used
Starting in January 2005, reserved seats are no longer marked with the yellow tab, but I wanted to keep this image of the old reservation yellow tab so we could remember "the good old days" when you could check a seat and see if it was reserved.
The yellow reservation tabs were either stuck on the doors of the cabins or, on train cars with no cabins, over the seats. This tab shows that seat 22 (seat number 2 of cabin number 2) is reserved from Catania to Milan (Milano).
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