In Italy, traveling by train is simple and efficient. Service between major cities is frequent, and trains usually arrive on schedule. The fastest trains on the Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), the Italian State Railways, are the Eurostar express trains, and the fastest Eurostar lines are designated as Alta Velocità; they run between all major cities from Venice, Milan, and Turin down through Florence and Rome to Naples. Seat reservations are mandatory on all Eurostar trains. You'll be assigned a specific seat in a specific coach; to avoid having to squeeze through narrow aisles, board only at your designated coach (the number on your ticket matches the one near the door of each coach). Reservations are also required for the next-fastest, and less-frequent Intercity (IC) trains, tickets for which are about half the price of Eurostar. If you miss your reserved train, go to the ticket counter within the hour and you'll be able to move your reservation to a later train (check these rules at booking).
Reservations are available but not required on Interregionale trains, which are slower and make more stops, and are less expensive still. Regionale and Espresso trains make the most stops and are the most economical; many serve commuters. There are refreshments on long-distance trains, purchased from a mobile cart or a dining car, but not on the commuter trains.
All but commuter trains have first and second classes. On local trains a first-class fare ensures you a little more space and a likely emptier coach. On long-distance trains you also get wider seats (three across as opposed to four) and a bit more legroom, but the difference is minimal. At peak travel times a first-class fare may be worth the additional cost, as the coaches may be less crowded. In Italian, prima classe is first class; second is seconda classe.
Many cities—Milan, Turin, Genoa, Naples, Florence, Rome, and even Verona included—have more than one train station, so be sure you get off at the right place. When buying train tickets be particularly aware that in Rome and Florence some trains don't stop at all of the cities' train stations and may not stop at the main, central station. This is a common occurrence with regional and some Intercity trains. When scheduling train travel on the Internet or through a travel agent, be sure to request to arrive at the station closest to your destination in Rome and Florence.
Except for Pisa, Milan, and Rome, none of the major cities have trains that go directly to the airports, but there are always commuter (frequently direct) bus lines connecting train stations and airports.
You can pay for your train tickets in cash or with a major credit card such as MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Diners Club at travel agencies, and at the train station ticket counters and automatic ticketing machines. If you'd like to board a train and don't have a ticket, seek out the conductor prior to boarding; he or she will tell you whether you may board and what the surcharge will be (usually €8). If you board a train without a ticket you'll be fined €50 plus the price of the ticket. Trains can be crowded, so it's always a good idea to make a reservation when that's possible. You can review schedules at the FS Web site and reserve seats up to three months in advance at the train station or at an Italian travel agency displaying the FS emblem. You'll need to reserve seats even if you're using a rail pass.
Even though it's not required for high-speed travel, for other trains you must validate your ticket before boarding by punching it at a yellow box in the waiting area of smaller train stations or at the end of the track in larger stations. If you forget, tell the conductor immediately to avoid a hefty fine.
Train strikes of various kinds are common, so it's a good idea to make sure your train is running. During a strike, minimum service is guaranteed, but what exactly that service consists of is difficult to predict.
Traveling by night can be a good deal (if somewhat of an adventure), as you'll pass a night without having to have a hotel room. More comfortable trains run on the longer routes (Sicily-Rome, Sicily-Milan, Sicily-Venice, Rome-Turin, Lecce-Milan); ask for the good-value T3 (three single beds), Intercity Notte, and Carrozza Comfort. The Vagone Letto Excelsior has private bathrooms and single-, double-, or twin-bed suites.
FS-Trenitalia (06/6847 5475 from outside Italy (English); 892021 inside Italy. www.trenitalia.com.)
Rail passes may offer the possibility to save on train travel. Compare rail pass cost with actual fares to determine whether you truly save, as fares can vary considerably. Generally, the more often you plan to travel long distances on high-speed trains, the more likely a rail pass would make sense.
A Eurail Italy Pass allows a certain number of travel days within Italy over the course of two months. Three to 10 days of travel cost from $277 to $510 (first class) or $225 to $413 (second class). If you're in a group of from two to five people, consider the discounted Eurail Italy Pass Saver : a pass for three to ten travel days costs from $236 to $434 (first class) or $192 to $351 (second class); children's passes are further discounted. Eurail Italy Youth (for those under 26) is second-class only and costs from $183 to $337 for one to 10 days of travel.
Italy is one of 17 countries that accept the Eurail Pass, which allows unlimited first- and second-class travel. If you plan to rack up the miles, get a Global Eurail Pass. The Eurail Select Pass allows for travel in three to five contiguous countries. In addition to standard Eurail Passes, there are the Eurail Youth Pass (for those under 26), the Eurail Flexipass (which allows a certain number of travel days within a set period), the Eurail Saver (which gives a discount for two or more people traveling together), and the Eurail Drive Pass (which combines travel by train and rental car).
All passes must be purchased before you leave for Europe. Keep in mind that even with a rail pass you still need to reserve seats on the trains you plan to take.
Rail Europe (800/622-8600 in U.S. www.raileurope.com.)
Italia Rail (877/375-7245 in U.S. www.italiarail.com.)
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