Italy’s train system made easy!
March 28, 2013/in Blog/by admin
A number of changes have been made to the Italian train system, including the addition of a new high-speed rail line called "Italo." Some trains have 2 classes, some have 4, and some have 3 "ambiances." Some have wifi, some have movies and "quiet cars," and some let you bring bikes on board.
Confused?? Here's a little primer to help you navigate your way safely and easily around Italy by train.
1) ITALIAN TRAINS: TRENITALIA vs. ITALO
TRENITALIA: Most Italian trains are operated by Trenitalia. The fastest trains are the Eurostar “Frecciarossa” and “Frecciargento,” which show up in timetables as “ES” or “ES AV.” Eurostar and Intercity (IC) trains travel along the main rail line (Milan-Venice-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples) and cost more, but they are much faster and make fewer stops than regional trains. You must book a seat on the Eurostar and it will be automatically assigned to you when you buy your ticket, then it is valid only on that particular departure. You can make changes to your ES ticket up until the time of departure at the special Eurostar booths by the platform, but you can NOT get a refund for a ticket after the train has departed. If you miss your reserved train you can get on this next one, but you should immediately seek out the conductor and you will have to pay a small fine and reserve yourself a new seat. Reservations are optional on Intercity trains and cost €3 extra. It’s worth reserving a seat if you are traveling in the high season or on a busy travel day, otherwise you may find yourself standing in a corridor for the duration of your trip! If you don’t reserve a seat, you may sit anywhere that’s not marked as reserved. All ES and most IC trains have a restaurant/bar car on board. There is free wifi on ES trains but it’s not very fast and you have to request a code that will be sent to an Italian cell phone number.
ITALO: There is now a privately-owned high-speed rail service called "Italo." The trains run on the same main line (Salerno-Naples-Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan-Torino OR Venice) and have competitive prices, so check with both companies before you buy. The Italo trains have a much easier wifi system as well as free drinks and even movies in the higher classes (there are 4 classes that they call "Ambiences"). Note: Italo trains stop at a variety of train stations in Milan, Rome and Venice, so take note when transferring! In Rome the trains stop at both Roma Tiburtina and Roma Termini, so you will have to catch a train, bus or taxi if you have a connection at another station. For information and reservations see their website at: http://www.italotreno.it/EN/Pages/default.aspx
Local “Trenitalia” Trains: The fastest of the local trains are the Diretto (D), followed by InterRegional (IR), which stop mainly in larger cities. The slowest trains are the Espresso (E) and finally the Regionale (R). These trains stop in every village and are by far the cheapest option. There are no reservations so you just buy a ticket and hop on any train you like (but note: the ticket is only good for the day on which it was purchased; if you decide to travel on another day you have to change the ticket at the counter).
Validating your Ticket: Before boarding a local train you must validate your ticket in one of the green/gray machines posted around the train station. Insert one end of the ticket into the slot and the stamp is printed with an audible “click.” You could be fined if the conductor sees that you did not validate (convalida in Italian) your ticket, and they are not always lenient with tourists! You don’t have to validate Eurostar tickets since they are only valid for that particular journey.
Purchasing Tickets: You can buy tickets last-minute at the train station at automatic ticket machines (English is available) or else at the counter (Italo has a separate section for ticket purchase). Some of the machines don’t take cash, so make sure you have an ATM or credit card handy [be wary of people who want to “help” you at these machines in Milan or Rome. Some are good citizens but others may pester you for money, or may even be pick-pockets!].
You can also buy ES, IC and Italo tickets online before your departure. This guarantees you get seats on the trains you want, and you can sometimes get good discounts. Or, you can go through your travel agent. This will guarantee you a ticket but you might end up paying much more than you would in Italy, and the tickets are often non-refundable and non-changeable. Finally, in an emergency you can purchase your tickets on the train -- but it will cost you double the price of a normal ticket (plus an additional fine).
First & Second-Class Tickets: Intercity trains and some local trains use First and Second class, while Eurostar now offers four classes (Standard, Premium, Business, Executive). Despite this new class system, you will find that ticket machines and even the trains themselves often still offer “primo” and “secondo.” Italo trains have three “Ambiences” (Smart, Prima and Club), with options for special “cinema” cars or “silence” cars. Most Italians travel second class, so you will find the compartments more crowded and harder to find seating in. The difference in comfort is relatively minor between first and second-class compartments on Eurostar and Intercity trains. If you are not traveling at a peak time (i.e. weekends or during weekday commute hours) second-class seating is typically fine. Please note that if you do not specify class type when purchasing your tickets at the train station, the ticket issuer will automatically issue you a second-class ticket.
** Senior (60+) Discounts: Italo offers a 20% discount for anyone over 60 years old, while Trenitalia only offers discounts if you buy a card (la Carta Argenta) in advance at a ticket counter. Valid one year and good for discounts of 15% on domestic trains and up to 25% on international trains, it costs €30 for those 60–75, and it’s free for anyone over 75.
Binario/Platform Numbers: The train platform (binario) number is posted on schedule boards and TV monitors in the station. You need to know the final destination of your train because they are listed by destination only. For detailed information, see the timetables posted on large display cases around the station (at left). Look for the departure time of your train, make sure that your station is listed (sometimes it will say “ferma in tutte le stazioni” which means stops in all stations), and then look for the platform (abbreviated as ‘bin’). Double-check this with the big board, however, since platforms do change.
Ticket Check: the train conductor doesn’t always make it to your seat to check/stamp your ticket. Do not try and use the tickets again since they are no longer valid after they have been validated (for local trains) or after your train has departed.
Smoking On Trains: All trains in Italy are now smoke-free, so you can breathe easy!
Train Conductors: they are usually very helpful and some speak a little English. Go to them if you have a problem, rather than waiting for them to come to you (you may avoid a fine this way!).
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