The public transport system in Italy is one of the best in the world; and the backbone of the system is a smooth running, highly efficient and comfortable network of railway lines that crisscross the country to connect the cities and rural towns alike.
In fact, the railway network is so extensive that it can be quite confusing to navigate when you first arrive since it has a few unusual quirks, although once you understand these it will make your life in the country much easier. Understanding the train system in Italy will not only save you money but make your travel around the country far more efficient and hassle free.
What Types Of Trains Can You Take In Italy?
There are a few main kinds of trains that you can use while you’re in Italy and choosing the right type is essential to ensure that your travel plans go smoothly. The main things that you need to consider when making a choice is how far you are travelling, the speed at which you need to get there and what the fares are that apply to the different types of train. You should also bear in mind that not all types of train serve all parts of the country.
The 3 main types of trains in Italy are:
- High Speed Trains.
- Regional Trains.
- Intercity Trains.
Reasons For Taking A High Speed Train
As their name suggests, the high speed trains in Italy are the fastest trains in the country that mainly run between major cities and cover long distance routes. If you want to get to your destination as fast as possible, particularly if it’s a long trip, then taking a high speed train is your best choice. The high speed trains are more pricey than the other types of trains but they are by far the most comfortable and provide you with the most on board space.
The high speed trains in Italy do not cover a lot of regional lines though because they require upgraded tracks to travel at faster speeds than the other types of train. The two major high speed train companies in Italy are Italo and Trenitalia.
Reasons For Taking A Regional Train
If you are travelling between small towns in rural parts of the country then a regional train is going to be your best option. Regional trains are nowhere near as fast as the high speed trains and they stop far more frequently however they are primarily designed to serve the many rural communities across Italy. In many cases, a regional train is the only way to get to small towns by train but they also travel to the major cities.
Prices on regional trains are also very low and so if you are trying to keep your budget down then this is your best bet. When travelling between cities on a regional train the ticket prices can often be nearly 40% cheaper than a high speed train. So if you’re not in a hurry, want to save a little money and see the country up close as you travel through it, then you should be taking a regional train.
Regional trains are popular among locals and sell nearly 900 million individual tickets each year! Some of the major regional train companies in Italy are Trenord, Trasporto Passeggeri Emilia Romagna, Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori and Thello.
Reasons For Taking An Intercity Train
Intercity trains are a very good way of travelling long distances between cities at a relatively low cost. They do not travel as fast as the high speed trains however some of them can reach over 200km/hr.
Intercity trains cover many of the same routes as the high speed trains and are much cheaper however there are less amenities on board, for instance they don’t have power outlets for recharging phones and laptops. They are also known for having delays on route and since the trains are quite old the seating and interiors are not very comfortable.
Nonetheless, the low cost is appealing and they will get you to your destination in one piece! They also offer Intercity Notte services where you can travel by night; so if you don’t want to stay in a hotel you can sleep on board the train and start your day in your destination on arrival. Trenitalia is one of the best intercity companies who are also currently in the process of replacing older trains with newer models.
Book Train Tickets In Advance And Save.
When you buy train tickets in advance not only will you be able to better plan your journey but you can also make some serious savings on the ticket fares. On average, across Italy, you can save about 30% on the cost of a ticket if you buy it in advance as opposed to buying it on the day that you travel. You can also get even better deals, and make huge savings, if you book your ticket a month or more in advance.
This applies to most types of trains in Italy but the savings will be the greatest if you book in advance on the high speed trains.
The potential savings that you can make will be largest on the longer routes. For example, if you buy a ticket from Rome to Milan on the day of travel you will pay around 120 Euros per person, compared to around 70 Euros if you book 2 weeks in advance. For a train from Florence, in Tuscany, to Milan, you would pay around 70 Euros per person if you bought the ticket on the day of travel compared to only 40 Euros if you book 2 weeks in advance. You can make similar savings on most train routes in Italy, so where possible, you should always try to book as far ahead of time as you can.
The exception to this rule are the regional trains, where you won’t make any savings by booking in advance, however the ticket prices are already very low. On the slower regional trains you can’t reserve a seat so there are no advanced bookings; although there’s nothing to worry about because there is always room on board!
Types Of Train Fares.
Tourists, and even Expats, get confused about the types of tickets that are available and often end up paying more than they need to for their journeys.
There are three types of fares that you can buy; Base, Economy and Super Economy.
These types of tickets do not refer to the types of service that you will receive but the conditions under which you can travel, including the flexibility of your journey and the refunds policy.
The Base fare lets you change your travel plans for free whereas with an Economy ticket you have to pay an extra charge if you change the time of your journey. The Super Economy does not allow you to change your travel itinerary at all and so if you miss your train or change your plans you won’t get a refund.
Generally speaking, it’s not usually worth paying for a Base fare – unless you are very unsure of your plans. Usually the best choice is the Economy fare; in which case just make sure to arrive at the station with plenty of time to find the platform and board your train.
What’s The Easiest Way To Buy A Train Ticket?
The best way to buy your train tickets in Italy is directly from the train company. Each company has its own website and easy to use downloadable Apps. If you use these company Apps you can not only choose your seats and avoid paying a booking fee, as you would if you bought from a third party website, but you can also make some good savings on the regularly updated promotional deals.
The train operator’s Apps are also more user friendly than their respective websites and can be downloaded for free on both iOS and Android devices and phones.
Electronic Tickets – The Modern Way To Travel.
For many people in Italy paper tickets are a distant memory as most now use electronic alternatives that are saved directly onto their phones. This reduces your risk of losing your ticket and saves you standing in line at the station to buy a physical ticket.
Buying an electronic ticket also saves you the hassle of validating it on regional train lines so all you need to do is show it to the conductor when they come round on board the train.
When you buy an electronic ticket you will get a PNR code sent to your train App or email address. Don’t forget though, that all train tickets in Italy have a name on them so make sure you put the right name in when booking it because the conductor might also ask to see your ID as well as your ticket.
Should You Buy A Rail Pass?
Many Expats, and indeed tourists, make the mistake of buying a Rail Pass but unless you are planning to travel huge distances across the entire European continent you really won’t make any significant savings.
Therefore, you’re much better off booking your tickets in advance than buying a Rail Pass. For instance, you really won’t save much travelling between cities or on the regional lines, so unless you’re planning an EU wide rail journey then don’t bother with the Rail Pass.
What About Luggage?
Italian trains do not have an official limit to the amount of luggage that you can bring onto the trains although don’t forget space on board is relatively limited. The maximum convenient amount of luggage that you should be travelling with is one or two suitcases per person. Of course, the lighter you travel the easier it will be to make your way through the stations as well as board and disembark from the train.
It’s also free to bring a bike on high speed and regional trains, however it will have to be either folded down or disassembled to take on board. Your bike needs to be kept in a bag that is 80x110x40cm or smaller.
Alternatively, on regional trains you can pay a small fee of under 5 Euros to have your bike carried in a wagon or else pay for an extra regular pass for it in 2nd class.
If you are travelling internationally by train then the fee for taking your bike is a bit higher but still under 15 Euros.
What About A Loyalty Card?
Unlike the Rail Pass, a Loyalty Card is a much better deal. Most train operators run a Loyalty Card scheme which is free to join. Once you have your Loyalty Card you will earn points for each journey which you can use later to claim price reductions on future ticket purchases. This is particularly useful if you are frequently using the train – to get to and from work for example.
Validating A Train Ticket.
In Italy and rest of Europe, most train tickets has to be validated on the day of the travel before you can get on the train. Typically train reservations that you made that were emailed to you or printed for you have to be validated at the station on the day of travel. Also, if you have an e-ticket and your ticket says something like print at train station, you will have to print the ticket the station and have it validated.
You can either do the validation by visiting the ticket counter or do it yourself by using the self-service ticketing and validating machines (the machine will validate it with a date stamp). You may be fined if you travel without validating your ticket. If you have an e-ticket with a ticketless confirmation, you do not have to validate your ticket or print the ticket.
Travelling By Train Is Convenient And Easy.
While you’re living in Italy, whether you have a car or not, travelling by train is a cheap, super convenient and enjoyable way to get around. Not only can you sit back, relax and watch the countryside go by but you can also have a quick nap if you’re feeling tired.
Knowing your way around the basics of the rail system will help you get the best value for money and let you travel around the country freely, just like a local! The train network is incredibly well designed and is among the best in Europe, if not the world.
So wherever you’re travelling, always consider taking the train if you want to relax and enjoy the ride without having to worry about driving yourself or taking a bus.