Travelling by train in Italy
Travelling on Italian trains has its quirks but it can also be a magical experience, a feast for those who appreciate great design and/or travelling through stunning landscapes.
Italy can also boast some of the most fabulous stations in Europe.
WORTH KNOWING ABOUT ITALIAN TRAIN TRAVEL:
1. In many respects there are two different means of travelling by train in Italy -
(i) - Happy to plan in advance and book ahead? Then there are big savings to be made by booking in advance for the express trains.
(ii) - Would rather be spontaneous and buy tickets last minute at the station?
Then the express trains become an expensive option, but both types of the slower Regionale train services can provide (much) cheaper alternatives.
And many destinations most popular with tourists are only served by Regionale trains - on which you can't save money by booking in advance.
So buying tickets at the station for those trains won't be any more expensive.
2. Each individual train service has a unique number that begins with AV, IC, RGV or REG
3. Italy has a primary high speed railway line that runs down the middle of the country on a
Torino/Turin – Milano – Bologna – Firenze/Florence – Rome/Roma – Napoli/Naples – Salerno route.
A new high speed line has also opened between Milano and Brescia (the first stage of a Milano – Venezia high speed railway).
4. AV trains are the high speed trains and they are operated by both Trenitalia and a private company NTV.
Trenitalia uses the ‘Frecce’ branding for its AV high speed services and 3* types of Frecce train are used on the high speed lines – Frecciarossa 1000, Frecciarossa and Frecciargento trains.
The AV high speed trains operated by NTV are branded Italo.
(*There are also Frecciabianca trains, but they don’t travel on the high speed lines).
5. InterCity trains are slower (and generally cheaper) than Frecce trains because they're conventional express trains and very rarely use the high speed lines.
6. Regionale Veloce (RGV) and Regionale (REG) trains are similar, but different services.
Regionale (REG) trains are predominantly local trains, while Regionale Veloce (RGV) trains link towns and cities over longer distances.
7. The Trenitalia website does not sell tickets for the Italo trains or show their train times and in turn, the Italo website only sells tickets for its trains and has no information for the Frecce trains.
Italo trains share stations with Trenitlia’s AV trains but have their own ticket desks, ticket machines and lounges.
Trenitalia branded ticket counters and machines don’t sell tickets for Italo trains.
8. The Trainline and Loco2 booking sites enable comparison between Frecce and Italo trains.
9. Limited numbers of discounted tickets are made available online for journeys by Frecce and IC trains - and by Italo trains
The disccounted tickets on Trenitalia are (i) 'Super Economy; - the cheapest tickets of all, and (ii) 'Economy' tickets.
But neither 'Super Economy' or 'Economy' tickets can be refunded.
10. Tickets for journeys by Frecce (AV) and IC trains are available online up to 4 months ahead of the travel date.
Italo tickets CAN be available earlier than Frecce trains.
This information seems vague because there seems to be flexibility re: when Trenitalia and Italo will place tickets on sale
On popular departures, 'Super Economy' tickets can sell out more than 10 weeks ahead of the travel date.
11. Reservations are compulsory on AV and IC trains – but seats are automatically assigned when booking tickets online and at stations.
Look for the carrozza (coach) number and posti (seat) numbers on the ticket.
12. Tickets for Regionale/Regionale Veloce trains are not discounted online, so if you want to travel by these trains, the price will be the same if booked at the station.
13. Seats cannot be reserved on either type of Regionale train service, so the availability of seats is not guaranteed on these trains.
14. Tickets have to be stamped in machines before boarding Regionale REG/RGV trains – but not when boarding express trains.
15. Tickets purchased for journeys by either type of Regionale train (RV and RG) cannot subsequently be used for journeys by Intercity or Frecce train.
16. Trenitalia.com also sells tickets for international trains to/from Italy, but only for direct trains.
These tickets are also available from Trenitalia branded ticket machines.
Using Rail Passes summary:
17. Rail pass users need to book reservations (seats) on Frecce and IC trains before boarding.
These can be purchased from the Trenitalia ticket machines and at ticket counters.
The Trenitalia ticket machines do not sell rail pass reservations on the international trains from Italy – these can purchased from ticket counters (with no booking fees).
18. Rail passes cannot be used on Italo trains.
19. Italian stations are bi-lingual, all signage is in English and Italian and ticket machines have excellent English translation.
At major stations the announcements re: train departures are in Italian and English – the English announcements always follow the Italian announcements.
20. However, Italian place names aren’t translated into English, Florence is always Firenze etc.
21. Multi-lingual announcements are made on the majority of trains, though the list of stations, which a train will be calling at, always switches back to Italian.
22. Many Italian cities, including Genova, Firenze, Milano, Roma and Venezia, have more than one station that long distance express trains call at – and the names of these stations are often more fanciful than logical.
So when planning a journey, booking a ticket or before boarding a train - try to work out which station suits you best, for accessing your final destination.
23. A feature of Trenitalia timetables is that gaps in intervals between trains can be (much) greater between around 09:00 and midday
This particularly applies to Regionale/Regionale Veloce trains heading away from major cities.
24. At major stations red electronic screens are being installed along the length of the platforms/binari that are used by AV and IC trains.
Around 5-10 mins before departure these screens will display the numbers of the carrozza/coach, which will be located beside each screen when the train arrives.
So use them to know where to wait on the binario/platform for ease of boarding into the carrozza/coach in which your assigned seat is located – match the number on the screen to the carrozza number on your ticket.
When these screens aren’t available it can be best to wait in the middle of the platform and then make a dash towards the coach that your seat is located in – but don’t delay, if need be, board the train by the nearest door and walk through to find your seat.