Having a right wing government with fascists as part of the coalition does not seem to have helped Italian railways this time. Having just spent a couple of weeks there picking up and dropping off people from railway stations, their universal feedback was that the trains were always ten minutes late – or indeed more – except in the one instance when my friend Liam was trying to make a connection and inevitably the train left on time.
Moreover, the schedules were so bad – we have become accustomed in this country to regular clockface timings on most routes and the lack of them in Italy is a real deterrent to using the train. I dropped my daughter off at Terontola, the mid station between Florence and Rome, expecting that there would be an hourly service to the capital – which there is after 10 40. But between 8 12 and 10 40, trains there were none! It goes to show that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
The high speed line, however, looks very good, running along the motorway for much of the route between Rome and Milan, including through some spectacular tunnels in the Apennines. However, there were remarkably few trains on it, and even when the full schedule is implemented, it seems that frequencies will still be quite low. The interesting time will be next year when the private rival to the state railways starts operating with its Alstom trains that look like Darth Vadar from the front – there is a picture in my new book which is coming out at the end of next month.