Italy’s high-speed rail is the Ferrari of trains

Italy’s high-speed rail is the Ferrari of trains :There’s no doubt the French do trains well. They do cars well too: Peugeots, Citroens and Renaults.

They don’t produce Ferraris, however. That’s the mob across the border, which also do a fine line in sleek and fast trains. Fittingly, they are red – red arrows, or Frecciarossa.

The range tops out with a “supercar” equivalent known as ETR 1000.

This arrow-headed, 200-metre long special was designed by Bertone, the Italian styling house also responsible for Maseratis, Lamborghinis and even a Ferrari or two (though Ferraris were usually styled by rival Pininfarina). It can carry 457 people at speeds of 400 km/h.

I road-tested – or, more correctly, track tested – the next model down, the Frecciarossa ETR 500 (top speed 360 km/h), on the route between Bologna and Florence.

Armed with a €69 “Base Executive” ticket, I climbed into a cabin with sumptuous black leather armchairs so far apart it was like every seat was not only in first class but also the exit row.

The speed and smoothness with which the Italian countryside slid past the generously large windows immediately impressed. So did the business class-style service, included in the ticket price. Seven wine varieties, all in half litre servings, were matched with dishes created by celebrity chef Carlo Cracco. These celebrated the theme of the month: the food of Calabria.

The Frecciarossa service is run by Trenitalia, Italy’s national train company. It admits the maximum speeds are not achievable yet. Spokesman Francesco Castellone explained the ETR 1000 is “able to reach 400 km/h but maximum speed in service will be 350 km/h to 360 km/h. It will be possible as soon as the Italian railway safety agency, or ANSF, will authorise us to go this fast.”

In the meantime the 1000 travels at the same 300 km/h as the 500. But, hey, that just eclipses France’s TGV. Not that there’s rivalry. Much.

The TGV remains high on my list of great high-speed train experiences, along with Japan’s Shinkansen (bullet-train) and China’s fast but furious magnetically levitating Shanghai Maglev. To those I’ll now add a certain red arrow. And before you ask, it was on time, and the staff were not even slightly on strike.

The real disappointment was arriving after just 34 minutes and having to change to the Italian equivalent of a “red rattler” for the final part of the journey. I would have happily continued on the ETR 500 to Naples, the model’s southern-most stop. And I didn’t even want to go to Naples.


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