History of railways in Italy

History of railways in Italy

Railways in Italy are one of the most important infrastructure in the country, with c. convert|19394|km of track.


Railways were introduced in Italy when it was still a divided country.

The first line to be built on the peninsula was the Napoli-Portici, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which was 7.640 km long and was inaugurated on October 3, 1839, nine years after the world's first "modern" inter-city railway, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The following year the firm Holzammer of Bolzano was granted the "privilege" to build the Milano–Monza (12 km), in the then Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, a puppet state of the Austrian Empire.

On request of the Milanese and Venetian industries, but also for the already clear military importance, construction of the Milan-Venice railroad was also begun. In 1842 the Padua-Mestre stretch of 32 km was inaugurated, followed in 1846 by the Milan-Treviglio (32 km) and Padua-Vicenza (30 km), as well as the bridge spanning the lagoon of Venice.

In the Kingdom of Sardinia (comprising Piedmont and Liguria), King Charles Albert ordered on July 18 1844 the construction of the Milan-Genoa railway, which was inaugurated on december 6, 1853. This was followed by the opening of other sections which connected the French and Swiss borders to Lombardy-Austria.

A locomotive factory was also founded in Genoa, in order to avoid the English monopoly in the field. This became the modern Ansaldo.

In Tuscany, the Duke of Lucca signed the concession for the a Lucca-Pisa railway, while, in 1845, the Duchy of Parma began the construction of two lines towards Piacenza and Modena. In the Papal States, where Pope Gregory XVI had declared the railways being a "devilish work", some lines where begun in 1846 under Pius IX with the Rome and Frascati Rail Road then the Rome and Civitavecchia Rail Road.

In the course of the Wars of Italian Independence, railways proved to be instrumental in the defeat of Charles Albert's army at Peschiera, as well as in the Austrian ones at Palestro and Magenta: in the latter, French troops were able to reach quickly the battlefield thanks to the new transportation mean, and established a defence line right on the ballast of the line.

Under unified Italy

At the creation of the unified Kingdom of Italy, railroads in the country were the following:for a total of 2,370 km .Lines in the Papal States were still in construction, while Sicily had its first, short railroad only in 1863 (Palermo-Bagheria). The existing lines did not form an organized net: property of the line was statal or private, the latter in turn for private or statal use. A first organic structure began to be created in 1865 with the connections of the existing sections. In order to promote the industrial development, the government entrusted the existing lines to five concessionaires:
*SFAI (Società per le strade ferrate dell'Alta Italia)
*SFR (Società per le strade ferrate romane)
*SFM (Società per le Strade Ferrate Meridionali)
*Società Vittorio Emanuele
*Società Reale delle ferrovie sarde. The war of 1866 caused great disruption to the industrial activities, including those of the railway companies, which went nearly bankrupt, and a state intervention was needed to save them. In 1870 the last remnant of Papal States was also annexed to Italy: it comprised the railway connection from Rome to Frascati, Civitavecchia, Terni and Cassino (through Velletri). In 1872 there were in Italy c. 7,000 km of railroads, entrusted to the existing societies in the following quantities:Other, secondary lines were operated by minor companies. After the unification construction of new lines was boosted: in 1875, with the of the section Orte-Orvieto, the direct line Florence-Rome was completed, reducing the trip of the former route passing through Foligno-Terontola. In 1875 a proposal of the Italian government to form a single company out of the existing concessionaires was refused by the Italian Parliament, provoking also the fall of the government. In the meantime the economical situation of the secondary companies continued to get worse, enhancing the failure of the concessionaire regime when, at the same time, in the whole Europe the tendency to aggregate all railways into a single, state-owned company became predominant. This, among the other benefit, granted the fulfillment of social exigences in transportation, that a strictly profit-oriented policy could not afford.

The Italian government was however slow to react, and only in 1878 and 1880, respectively, the largely deficitaire SFAI and SFR went under state administration.

The "convenzioni" of 1884

Despite this situation, in 1884 the Italian Parliament issued a commission study in which it was declared preferable a private administration of railways. The "Convenzioni" (concessions) between Italy and the three main remaining private companies were signed on April 23, 1884, for a period of 60 years. SFM was assigned the lines on the Adriatic Sea ("Rete Adriatica", Adriatic Net), while the Società per le Strade Ferrate del Mediterraneo and the Società delle Ferrovia della Sicilia received, respectively, the "Rete Mediterranea" (lines facing Mar Ligure, Mar Ionio and Tyrrhenian Sea) and the "Rete Sicula" (Sicily). The companies received in total 8,510 km of railroads, under the vigilance of the Ministry of the Public Works, through a General Inspectorate for Railroads, which replaced the previous position of the General Royal Commissariate.

However, this move not only failed to improve the situation of railways, hampering the economical development and the tourism as well, but worsened it further. Liabilities of the secondary lines overcame greatly the profits from the few remaining ones, and absorbed all the state financial contributes. Anyway, in the 1880s railroads in Italy amounted to 10,510 km.

The Ferrovie dello Stato

The private companies were definitively bought back by the Italian state on July 1, 1905, with the creation of the Ferrovie dello Stato (State Railways), or FS, with a total of 10,557 km of lines, of which 9,686 were already of its property. The move was completed the following year with the acquisition of the remaining SFM net: at this point FS possessed 13,075 km of lines, 1,917 of which with double tracks.

General Director was appointed the Piedmontese engineer Riccardo Bianchi, who had held the same position for the Ferrovie Sicule. A General Direction was created, with 13 Central Services and 2 General Inspectorates, with seat in Rome. For the peripherical operations 8 Compartimental Directions were created.

A capable and respected organizer, he received however a grievous heritage from the previous organizational chaos. The most striking problem was the rolling stock: FS had 2,664 steam locomotives, 738 of which with more than 30 years of service; passenger cars were 6,985, mostly older than 30 years; freight cars were 52,778, one fifth of which older than 40 years. The first urgent measure was the construction, in 1905-06, of 567 new locomotives, 1,244 passenger (including the first provided with bogies) and 20,263 freight cars.

Studies for electrification, which was already present in the lines around Varese and in Valtellina, were encouraged. Under Bianchi the FS regained efficiency with fast pace: on the main lines was introduced the semaphore system was introduced, centralized hydrodynamic switches and signals were added in the main stations, which were updated or built from scratch.

Bianchi's direction lasted for 10 years. Under his successor, ing. De Cornè, FS were involved in the Italian effort in World War I (from May 24, 1915). The company suffered heavy destructions, and, after the end of the conflict, it had to face new problems caused by the necessity to incorporate the lines from the new territories lost by the Austrians, which had different equipment and rules.

Fascist era

The period from 1922 to 1939 was heavy with important construction and modernisation programmes for the Italian railways, which incorporated also 400 km (249 miles) from the Ferrovie Reali Sarde of Sardinia. The most important programme was that of the "direttissime" Rome-Naples and Bologna-Florence: the first reduced the travel time from the two cities by an hour and a half; the second, announced proudly as "constructing Fascism", included the longest gallery of the world. Electrification on 3,000 V direct current was introduced, which later supplanted the existing three-phase system. Other improvements included automatic blocks, light signals, construction of numerous main stations (Milano Centrale, Napoli Mergellina, Roma Ostiense and others) and other technical updates.

The rolling stock was enhanced from 1933 by DMU and EMU, nicknamed "Littorine" from the lictorial symbols of the Fascist regime. The Italian EMUs ("elettrotreni"), in particular, started the traditional vanguard position of Italy in the field: on december 6 1937 an ETR 200 travelled on the Rome-Naples at a speed of 201 km/h (125 mph) in the Campoleone-Cisterna section [According to a legend, Benito Mussolini himself drove the train.] Two years later the same train reached 203 km/h (126 mph) on the Milan-Florence.

In this period also began the traditional service of "treni derrate" (food trains) in refrigerated wagons from southern to northern Italy, and abroad as well.

In 1928 the first direct connections between Naples-Rome-Turin and Milan were completed. In this period the popular motto "durante il Fascismo i treni arrivavano in orario" ("during Fascism the trains arrived on time") became widespread. This was due to several factors: the still uncrowded lines, the updated stock, but also to the severe discipline to which the engine-drivers were subjected; in particular, they had to pay personally for the delays of the trains they drove.

The Ferrovie dello Stato were moved from the Ministry of Public Works to the newly formed Ministry of Transports.

From World War II to 1970s

The war left railways in Italy in a disrupted state. Entire lines were out of work and much of the rolling stock destroyed. Thanks to the Marshall Plan, in the following years they could be rebuilt, although the possibility of reorganizing the network was missed due to myopic policies. The fundamental line Battipaglia-Reggio Calabria was doubled, while a program of updating of infrastructures, superstructures, services, colour-light signalling and cars were updated or extended. Also the three-phase lines were gradually turned into standard 3,000 V dc lines.

Increasing numbers of steam locomotives were replaced by electric or diesel ones; in the 1960s also the first unified passenger cars appeared and the first attempts of interoperability with foreign companies were started, culminating in the creation of Trans Europe Express services.

More modern ferries for the service over the Strait of Messina were introduced and, in 1961, a similar service begun to Sardinia, although not providing transport of railways cars.

High speed projects

In the 1960s the FS started an innovative project for high speed trains. E444 locomotives were the first standard locomotives capable of 200 km/h of speed, while an ALe 601 EMU reached a speed of 240 km/h during a test. Other EMUs, such as the ETR 220, ETR 250 and ETR 300 were also updated for speeds up to 200 km/h. Also the braking systems of cars were updated to fit the increased travelling speeds.

On June 25 1970, works for the Rome-Florence "Direttissima", the first high-speed line in Italy, were started. They included the 5,375 m bridge on the Paglia river, then the longest in Europe. However, the works were completed only in the early 1990s.

In 1975 a crack program for a widespread updating of the rolling stock was launched. However, as an it was decided to put more emphasis on local traffic, this caused a shifting of resources from the ongoing high speed projects, with their subsequent slowing or, in some cases, total abandonment. Therefore, 160 E656 electric and 35 D345 locomotives for short-medium range traffic were acquired, together with 80 EMUs of the ALe 801 and ALe 940 classes, 120 ALn 660 DMUs. Some 1,000 much-needed passenger and 7,000 freight new cars were also ordered.

From 1980s onwards

The 1980s were a controversial period. Despite the recent efforts, the rolling stock was aged, especially on secondary lines, late running was frequent and the freight sector lost ground in favour of road transportation. The situation started to improve only from the early 1990s, when the first effects of the new high-speed programs launched from the late 1970s began to appear: these included the famous ETR 400 "Pendolino", capable of 250 km/h and first used for the Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan service. These were later replaced by the more advanced ETR 450 and ETR 500, the latter capable of speed up to 300 km/h. Works on the high-speed lines continued, the Rome-Naples being opened in 2005. Other lines are under construction.

In 2000 FS became an holding company which controls various companies among which there is Trenitalia, a limited society. The various service were divided into three different companies for long range (FS Divisione Passeggeri), local range (FS Regionale) and freight (FS Cargo), while numerous other sub-companies were created. Property of the railroad was assigned to RFI (Rete Ferroviaria Italiana) from 2001 (an FS company as well).

Today railways in Italy continue to experience the difficulties and incongruousness inherited from past times. Modern high-speed lines, trains and locomotives (E402) are paired by others, especially in southern Italy, in which the transportation speed is still comparable to that of the early 19th century. The freight sector has only recently showed signs of recovery from the long-term depressed state it has lived in through the 20th century. Commuter services are often causes of polemics due to poor services; in several cases necessary lines survive only through support of local authorities.

The liberalization of the market has brought the appearance of only a small number of other companies.

Railways companies certified for operation in Italy

Companies certified to run railways in Italy are

From 2000
*Ferrovie dello Stato S.p. A.
*Trenitalia S.p. A.

From 2001
*Metronapoli S.p. A.
*Ferrovie Nord Milano Esercizio S.p. A.
*Rail Traction Company S.p. A.

From 2002
*Del Fungo Giera Servizi Ferroviari S.p. A.
*Gruppo Torinese Trasporti S.p. A.(ex SATTI)
*SERFER Servizi Ferroviari S.r.l.
*Hupac S.p. A.

From 2003
*Ferrovie Emilia Romagna S.r.l.
*La Ferroviaria Italiana S.p. A.
*Cargo Nord S.r.l.
*Ferrovie Adriatico Sangritana S.r.l.
*Sistemi Territoriali S.p. A.
*Strade Ferrate del Mediterraneo S.r.l.
*Swiss Rail Cargo Italy S.r.l.

From 2004
*SBB Cargo Italia S.r.l.
*Ferrovie Nord Cargo S.r.l.
*Azienda Consorziale Trasporti di Reggio Emilia
*Ferrovia Alifana e Benevento Napoli S.r.l.
*Ferrovie Nord Milano Trasporti S.r.l.

From 2005
*Trasporto Ferroviario Toscano S.p. A. (La Ferroviaria Italiana S.p. A.)
*Ferrovie Centrali Umbre S.r.l.
*Railion Italia S.r.l. (ex S.F.M.)
*Rail One S.p. A.
*Azienda Trasporti Collettivi e Mobilità S.p. A.
*A.T.C. Bologna S.p. A.
*Monferail S.r.l.

From 2006
*SAD - Trasporto Locale S.p. A.
*Nord Cargo S.r.l. (ex Ferrovie Nord Cargo S.r.l.)

ee also

*Ferrovie dello Stato
*Treno Alta Velocità


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