Sunday, 19 May 2013

Italian train alternatives

Getting around Italy by train's pretty easy, and in some cases mind-nubingly fast (300 km/hr). The Trenitalia website's OK in English, and after booking you can use a code sent in an e-mail as the e-ticket, meaning I don't have to print paper copies to show them on board when they check tickets. There are, however, alternatives to Trenitalia, though limited info on them.

There's a big red train I have seen around that turns out to be the "WestJet" of Italian trains, called .Italo. This is a privately run high speed train that uses the FS lines, which basically run from Naples in the south, through Rome, Florence, Bologna, to Venice or Milan in the north (and certain points in between). Privately created (in part by SNCF of France) but a public company called NTV, it competes with Trenitalia on service and price.

It's downside is that it doesn't go to Rome Termini, the main station, but Roma Tiburtina and Roma Ostiense, two "lesser" stations. However, it's easier for us to get to Tiburtina than Termini, so that's not a downside. Same in Milan, where it serves two "lesser" stations and not the main one.

The "real" downside of this isn't station access while you're in the town (that's straightforward, if not easy); it's more subtle. When you try to book travel on line, you almost always have to specify a departure station. The moment you search on Rome Termini, you won't find .Italo's trains as an option at all. Few sites offer to search all Rome stations (Trenitalia's does, but of course won't find .Italo's trains). If you are unfamiliar with getting around here, you'll immediately think "all roads lead to Termini" and not even know to check departures from or arrivals to Tiburtina or Ostiense.

I've done a lot of "getting around Italy" research, and until I got here, I didn't know .Italo even existed. It's not in the guidebooks I've read either.

But if you're considering travelling around Italy, I'd check it out. It has an independent website so some of the generic European train booking sites (like this one) don't have it. I wish I had known about it prior to booking our Naples trip, for it's cheaper and a little bit more convenient for us, in that we're a ready connection to both Ostiense and Tiburtina.

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