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Trains in Italy: Types of Train Service

Alice Twain

Trenitalia runs several categories of trains; each category is differentiated by the level of comfort, the speed, the price, the accessory services offered and the number of stops. The main cities have trains of all categories stopping, while smaller towns and villages have only a few low category trains stopping at their stations. Quite obviously, travelers tend to travel on long trips on the most comfortable and fastest ones, while take low category trains only for short trips going from one main city to a nearby town and back.

Below I will explain these categories of service. For clarity purposes I have added an example of prices and travel times between Milan and Bologna with each category of train, just to make it easier to a foreign visitor to navigate between the many options and chose the one that is better fitted to his needs.

No Smoking!

Please note that starting December 2004 there is no smoking on all Trenitalia trains, regardless of category and class.

Eurostar

The Eurostar is the top category of trains. They are both the most costly and the most comfortable. Eurostar trains, for the most part, only stop at the biggest cities and towns (region capital cities). For instance, between Milan and Rome, Eurostar trains only stop in Bologna and Florence. Eurostar trains only travel by day and require a reservation, so the tickets are better bought in advance (though it is not impossible to find seats on the day of the departure). Reservation is free and issued with the ticket.

Second class, though usually more crowded, is comfortable enough and most people who usually travel first class on Italian trains chose to travel second class on Eurostar trains. Luggage space on overhead racks is limited, but you can find more room for your bags between opposite seats (they face back to back and you can put bags in between) and in a special rack at one end of each car. All these trains have a restaurant-bar car placed in the middle of the train, between first and second class cars.

Sample Time and Price

Milano-Bologna

Travel time 1 hour 45 minutes
First class: 32,54 euro
Second class: 22,72 euro

Intercity and IntercityPlus

Intercity and IntercityPlus trains are quite comfortable and fast, traveling between all major and important Italian towns and cities. Intercity trains stop more often than Eurostar trains, but they still do not stop in small villages and towns.

IntercityPlus trains are Intercity trains that have been refurbished: the structure of the car is the same, but six seats cabins have been removed and seats have been substituted with new ones, in two parallel rows of two seats (second class) or two parallel rows of single seats on on side and two seats on the other, all facing each other. Basically, the new layout is more similar to the Eurostar trains with a different color scheme.

Intercity and IntercityPlus trains either have a restaurant-bar car or trolleys selling drinks and sandwiches (panini) along the corridors.

First or Second Class?

On the Intercity trains second class is decently comfortable, but first class is a lot more comfortable, so, if comfort is an issue for you, consider going first class. Intercity trains have large, two level, overhead racks for your suitcases, but no extra space behind the seats or near the doors in second class. An extra rack near one end of the car is available on first class cars.

Seat Reservations

Intercity and IntercityPlus trains allow seat reservations, but don't require them. A reservation costs 3 euro. If you decide to reserve a seat, make sure that the person selling you the ticket understands your request for a reservation, because it is not issued with the ticket, and without the reservation you are not entitled to a seat.

You can reserve a seat or buy the ticket without a reservation and hope to find an empty seat. If you do not reserve a seat you may have to travel standing in the corridor (second class cars corridors have small, extremely uncomfortable extra seats). The decision whether to reserve or not depends on several considerations: how long the trip is going to be, the day of the week and period of the year in which you are traveling and, finally, how fit you are.

The busiest days are, quite obviously, the weekends, when I suggest you always reserve a seat. I also suggest you reserve seats for traveling in August, and near the main holidays (Christmas, New Year, Easter, April 25, and May 1).

Seats numbered 71-86/88 are never reserved on any Intercity and IntercityPlus trains' cars, so there are always some non-reserved seats. You may find an unoccupied seat elsewhere in the car, but in this case you must always remember that a person holding a valid reservation might show up anytime and request the seat.

Sample Time and Price

Milano-Bologna
Travel time: Approx 2 hours and 25 minutes
First class: 22,21 euro + 3 euro seat reservation
Second class: 16,78 euro + 3 euro seat reservation

Intercity Notte

Intercity Notte trains are similar to Intercity trains, but they travel by night (notte). These trains have basically the same services as the Intercity trains, but also offer sleeping berths for overnight traveling. Prices and travel times are the same as Intercity trains, but a further fee must be paid for booking a sleeping berth (in 3 or 6 people cabins).

Eurocity and Eurocity Notte

Eurocity and Eurocity Notte trains are basically the same as Intercity and Intercity Notte, but they travel on international routes (between countries). Ticket prices on these trains are the same as Intercity and Intercity Notte for trips that take place in Italy, while international trips on these trains are sold under a different pricing policy (Artesia system). Some of these trains do not request mandatory seat reservations; some, like the Cisalpino from Zurich to Florence, do.

Espresso

Espresso trains (like the coffee) are the cheapest trains traveling long distances. They do both national and international service and usually stop only in the main cities and towns, though some have odd stops at minor towns. They allow reservations but do not require them.

These trains are usually not crowded, but they can be dirty and uncomfortable, so I do not suggest them as a good way to travel in Italy, unless you are on a tight budget, and even in that case I suggest taking a blanket of some kind with you, to lay on the seats.

Night Espresso trains offer sleeping berths too; just like in Intercity Notte trains, you have to reserve a sleeping berth and you will have to pay a supplement for it. Luggage room is usually as abundant as on Intercity trains. Yet these trains, for the most part, do not offer food on board, so you must bring food and drink if you are going for a long trip.

First and second class on Espresso trains do not differ greatly, being made equal by the dirt accumulated on the seats and other surfaces.

Sample Time and Price

Milano-Bologna
Travel time: From 2 hours and 30 to 3 hours
First class: 15,70 euro + 3 euro seat reservation
Second class: 10,12 euro + 3 euro seat reservation

Interregionale, Regionale and Diretto

Interregionale

Regionale

Diretto

These are trains that travel medium distances. They do not offer much in terms of comfort and are quite slow, but they are as cheap as Espresso trains and somewhat cleaner. On the other hand, they are sometimes crowded, especially in the early morning and late afternoon, since they are used by commuters.

They are the perfect means to travel from village to village or from one main city or town to nearby villages. Since they are mainly used for short trips, they do not allow seat reservation, yet, if you are traveling on commuters hours, you may find that some travelers are keeping the seats "occupied" with a newspaper or a jacket for someone who is boarding the train one or two stops later. In this case, you can ask to use the seat until the other person arrives.

Because these trains are mainly used for short trips, they have little luggage space. Some Interregionale trains offer drinks and snacks, but most trains of these categories don't, so bring your own food and water. Tickets for these trains can also be bought at newsagents.

Sample Time and Price

Milano-Bologna
Travel time: From 2 hours and 30 to 3 hours
First class: 15,70 euro
Second class: 10,12 euro


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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