Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 04:33:53 PM EST
Alex is off-line, I'll do another unplanned theme – one supplementing the earlier Highest Speed diary.
The occasion: after pilot service started 19 December on the Rome–Naples line, now Friday this week, service will also start on the Turin–Novara line, to serve the Winter Olympics. (During tests last autumn, the Italian speed record was broken successively on both lines – 348, then 350.8 km/h.)
A first sub-series ETR500 (300 km/h high-speed train) and a series ETR460 (second-generation Pendolino tilting train) at a presentation. Photo by Luka Rutar from RailFanEurope
When most people think of high-speed trains, they think of Japan's Shinkansen, France's TGV, and maybe Germany's ICE. But Italy has its own system, in fact we could say that Italy pioneered the modern concept of high-speed. Yet, lack of recognition is not without reason.
It began in dark times, hijacked at the beginning for the service of fascist propaganda: the construction of Direttìssima lines, designed for express traffic with wide curves and long tunnels, paralleling older lines. A second Rome–Naples line was opened 1927, and the mountains between Bologna and Florence were cut through seven years later. But trains ran late despite Mussolini's vows, and tracks and trains weren't up to fully exploit these advantages even decades after WWII.
An ETR220, slightly rebuilt version of a nineteen-thirties 'high-speed' train ETR200 (intended for 200 km/h, but went rarely above 160 km/h in practise). Photo in Milano Centrale in 1990 by Jacopo Fioravanti from RailFanEurope
Still, Italy beat France in building the first modern (built for 250 km/h or more) high-speed line in Europe (the Direttìssima from Rome to Florence). Only, as typical in that period of limitless corruption and mismanagement, the line was built in stages – the first opened 1978, the last only 1992. And the first trains suited for the permissible top speed (the famous Pendolino tilting trains) weren't ready until the nineties1.
A series ETR450 (first-generation) Pendolino tilting train on an upgraded section near Narni. Photo by Michele Benda from RailFanEurope
From the middle of the nineties, construction of most sections of the "Big T" (from Naples up north to Milan, and east–west from Turin to Venice) has begun2, lines designed for 300 or even 350 km/h – and the ETR500 trains suited for these speeds are already in (lower-speed) service. The two mentioned at the beginning are the first openings.
A second sub-series (improved, two-system) ETR500 high-speed train on a Rome–Naples test run last November. Photo from TAV's works album
But things didn't go smoothly under Prodi and Berlusconi either: the last 50 km of the new (third) Rome–Naples line is still in construction after archaeology- and misplanning-related delays, the opened section was also delayed due to notorious signalling problems, which may also be the reason for a rather modest pilot traffic (just two train pairs with a mere 10 minutes cut off)...
Track-laying near Novara in November 2004, in the region's characteristic heavy autumn mist, which Umberto Eco liked to incorporate into his novels. Photo by Mattia C. from RailFanEurope
- Part of the problem was the Italian electrification system: it is a DC system, which allows a lower maximum current and thus less maximum power. Later lines are now built with an AC power system, and new trains are suited for both systems.↑
- For maps and details, check out the homepage of the authority created in the nineties to direct and coordinate construction, TAV (link goes to English site).↑
Previous Monday Train Bloggings:
- (Premiere/ modern Austrian trains & locos)
- Fast Steam
- Heavy Haul
- Forgotten Colorado
- The Hardest Job
- Highest Speed
- New England Autumn
- Bigger Than Big Boy
- Failed Designs
- Crazed Designs
- Trains In The Arts
- Railway Cathedrals
- Design Dictators
- Slippery Slope