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Red Arrow to Bologna

by DoDo Tue Jan 6th, 2009 at 03:35:47 PM EST

[Last month], Italian State Railways (FS) inaugurated its Milan–Bologna high-speed rail line. From [14 December], regular trains traverse it at 300 km/h.

Above: an ETR 500 train in new Frecciarossa livery passes the new Po bridge (cable-stayed, main span: 194 m) in autumn fog. Photo from FS

Below: parallel test run at 300 km/h on the new line by test units ETR 500 Y1 and Y2, filmed by apparent test train driver 44Nikko87

Let me introduce the line (doing some more parallel bridge blogging) and say a few words about high-speed in Italy below the fold.

Bumped to showcase a recent example of Train Blogging, a regular feature on European Tribune.

From Mussolini to Eurostar

The long history of Italian high-speed rail is one of missed chances and failed promises. Italian railways weren't just the rarely recognised fourth pioneer (alongside Japan, France and Germany), but could have been the first. In ill times, though.

On 28 October 1922, at the end of the fascist march on Rome, Benito Mussolini arrived by train – late. He told the station boss that 'from now on, trains run on time'. This then became a centre-piece of his propaganda, and even today, many believe that it was true – though in truth Mussolini failed:

"All authoritarian political systems offer 'leadership,' and those who support them argue that they are at least efficient.... The myth of fascist efficiency is fossilized in the endlessly repeated assurance that Mussolini 'made the trains run on time.' ...[His regime] brought disaster... and the trains did not run on time! The author was employed as a courier by the Franco-Belgique Tours Company in the summer of 1930, the height of Mussolini's heyday, when a fascist guard rode on every train, and is willing to make an affidavit to the effect that most Italian trains on which he travelled were not on schedule—or near it. There must be thousands who can support this attestation. It's a trifle, but it's worth nailing down."

    –Bergen Evans (1954), The Spoor of Spooks and other Nonsense, Alfred A. Knopf, New York; Library of Congress catalog card number 53-9461.

As pointed out in a snopes article, simple post-WWI reconstruction – which started prior to the fascist takeover – must have had a large part in relative improvements, too. But, it wasn't just reconstruction, there was also the resurrection of some pre-WWI projects to fit Mussolini's grandiosity: the direttissima lines.

Presaging what Japan did three decades later, Italy wanted to duplicate the network connecting main cities, with new, much straighter lines paralleling the existing old railways. Italy being mountainous, this was a pharaonic enterprise with long tunnels. The first direttissima connected Rome and Naples from 1927. A second, connecting Bologna and Florence, followed in 1934.

Above: 4 December 1929, holing-through celebration held in the station in the middle of the 18,507 m Appennino tunnel, the centrepiece of the Bologna–Florence direttissima. At the time, it was the second longest in the world. Photo from Bologna Digital Library

Below: straight line across the trench and tunnel of Canneto, North of Prato. Photo from Bologna Digital Library

However, while the routing of the new lines would have permitted speeds up to 200 km/h, and trains aimed for that speed were built (some diesel railcars and ETR 200), even 160 km/h was rarely reached due to poor quality (130 km/h was typical). And line construction came to a standstill with WWII preparations...

Pharaonic (and sluggish) railway construction resumed in the chronically corrupt Italian Republic. The third direttissima, from Rome to Florence, was Europe's first true high-speed line in 1977 – ahead of the LGV Paris–Lyon in France.

Inside the cab of FS ETR 450 006, running at 255 km/h (see speed indicator in the middle) near Capena on the Florence–Rome Direttissima in Spring 1990. Photo by Jacopo Fioravanti from Railfaneurope.net

However, ambition and reality were again far apart.

  • in 1977, only half of the line was ready – it took 15 more years to finish it to Florence.

  • New high-speed trains were also a decade late: old trains from the fifties (ETR 250 "Arlecchino" and ETR 300 "Settebello", see Hump-Nosed Trains) were used at 180 km/h until the arrival of the 250 km/h ETR 450 "Pendolino" tilting trains (though they were still ahead of Germany's ICE by starting in 1987).

  • When as a next step, the 300 km/h ETR 500 trains followed, FS was finally forced to recognise that Italy's 3 kV DC electrification system is not really suited for high power uptake at high speed. (In fact, even 250 km/h was problematic: except when late, they go at 220 km/h.)

The only field where ambition had results: after also incorporating technology from Britain's failed ATP, FIAT Ferroviaria of Italy (later sold to TGV maker Alstom...) became the only manufacturer in Europe that truly mastered active tilting technology, resulting in export successes from Britain to Slovenia, from Portugal to Finland – though, all the importers had their troubles running it properly.
My own photo shows ČD 680 005 (receding) as SuperCity 505 to Ostrava, clearly beding into the curve near Brandýs nad Orlicí in the Czech Republic

To boot, after the new trains arrived, FS found themselves upstaged in the brand name: having failed to register "Eurostar" internationally, the London–Paris/Brussels high-speed trains across Channel Tunnel could use the same name, too, and became much more famous with it.

Alta Velocità

In the nineties, with support from both centre-left and centre-right, the high-speed push began in earnest. Although there was big mess and corruption and delays again, those delays were in years rather than decades for a rather large part of the planned network: all the way from Turin to Naples.

This time, the aim was state-of-the-art: 300 km/h lines electrified at 25 kV, 50 Hz AC; newer Pendolinos (from the 2nd generation: ETR 470 and ETR 485, brand-new third generation: ETR 600) and true high-speed sets (ETR 500 P) built for dual-system (DC/AC) service.

The first third-generation Pendolino, an ETR 600, on a test run on the Florence–Rome high-speed line near Incisa in Val d'Aosta, on a cold and foggy winter morning two years ago. Photo by Paolo Carnetti from RailPictures.Net

However, high-tech led to more trouble: Italy wanted to pioneer the new all-European wireless train control and signalling system, ERTMS Level 2 – which, as I wrote in several high-speed rail diaries before, was in mighty trouble due to the unreliability of wireless technology for railway purposes.

Two of the new lines opened about two years ago: most of LAV Roma–Napoli (yes, the third line to connect Rome and Naples) and, just in time for the Winter Olympics, LAV Torino–Novara (I reported). A short Naples–Salerno line was opened in June on 15 April, with full service from 16 June [2008].

Two short sections of LAV Milano–Bologna, at its two ends, were opened for mixed traffic earlier, too. The rest: [13 December]. Here is a map in two parts of the 182 km long new line:

Red is the new line, black is other rail lines, grey is roads (what looks like a shade of the high-speed line is the A1 highway). Map from RFI

You'll notice a speciality of Italian high-speed lines: they are like highways. It is not unheard of to build high-speed lines bypassing cities but with connections to a conventional line into the bypassed city (see for example on Madrid–Barcelona in Spain here, or LGV Nord in France). But in Italy, conventional expresses to all medium-sized cities are meant to co-use the high-speed lines – resulting in many connecting branches, which add a lot to the costs. (The 8 interconnections for the LAV Milano–Bologna add up to 27.5 km.)

Though the new line runs along a highway on the flat Po Basin, it does have significant superstructures: a number of cut-and-cover tunnels (altogether 3.5 km), bridges and elevated sections (altogether 32 km).

Just before its western end, Viadotto Modena (the longest elevated section at 7,116 m) crosses the A22 next to the Campogalliano exit. Photo from Il Messaggero

Star architect Santiago Calatrava from Valencia/Spain also left his mark: he got to design the new station Mediopadana next to Reggio Emilia, and next to it, a group of three oversized overpasses with his signature twisted arch–cable-stay combinations.

When you fix cable-stays to an arch-pylon: the North Bridge in Calatrava's triplet at Reggio Emilia spans a roundabout. In the background, the (relatively) more conventional Central Bridge, with its 221 m span over both the Milan–Bologna high-speed line and the A1 highway.
Photo by ecatoncheires from Flickr – check out the linked set of nine amazing night photos!

Meanwhile, after yet another government change, Italy's high-speed trains suffered yet another re-branding, and with that a new livery. The new Eurostar Italia names are:

  • Frecciarossa (Red Arrow): trains for top speeds of 300–350 km/h;
  • Frecciargento (Silver Arrow): trains for 250–285 km/h;
  • Frecciabianca (White Arrow): trains for 220–230 km/h.

An ETR 500 P in new Frecciarossa livery on a test run on the new Milan–Bologna high-speed line at Anzola dell'Emilia (with Lavino Interconnection in the background and the shadow of the parallel conventional line in the foreground) on 10 October 2008. Photo by Beppe from RailPictures.Net

On schedule from today, trains run Milan to Bologna (with city sections, altogether 214.7 km) in 1h05m, cutting 37 minutes. Milan–Rome non-stop trains (19 out of a daily 51 high-speed runs) will cover the distance in 3h30m (29 minutes less than the stopping ones). Also see prices.

The future

In December 2009, the three gaps that remain between Turin and Naples will be closed: the on-time Novara–Milan section, the final section into Naples (delayed by archeology), and the altogether three years delayed Bologna–Florence section. The latter is in practice a series of tunnels (featured in my "boring" Tunnels diary), and will cut another half hour in the planned schedule.

Did I say gaps closed? Well, not completely. The actual lines end at the outskirts of major cities, but all cities receive new through tracks for the arriving high-speed trains with separate routing – and all of these suffered delays. The key Bologna node is slated for opening in 2011, the Florence one even in 2014.

Further plans are trudging along at glacial speed.

There is the Lyon–Turin line, which will connect to the French TGV network across the giant Mount d'Ambin Base Tunnel (53.1 km) – maybe by 2023.

A second big corridor is to connect Milan and Trieste, possibly continued to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Two shorter lower-speed sections that will form part of this corridor were opened in 2007 (see European HSR expansion in 2007), the rest is haggled over. Most controversy was generated around the project for a base tunnel from Genua to the Po Basin in the north ("Terzo Valico"), with inhabitants fearing pollution from the construction.

Longer-term plans include a Bologna–Verona connection, a branch from Naples to the Adriatic coast, and a line all the way down to the planned Messina Bridge, and on to Palermo via Catania across Sicily. However, even if these become reality, not all of it may turn out true high-speed.

I close with a different future: the brave new privatised open-access one.

NTV, founded by Luca di Montezemolo of Ferrari, is a private high-speed train operator wannabe, which became launch customer for Alstom's TGV successor AGV (see here and here) with a €650 million order for 25 trains, which are to run under the (internet vote selected) uninspired product name ".ITALO" from 2011.
On the photo from NTV, co-owner and CEO Giuseppe Sciarrone with a model of the NTV AGV at a press conference on 15 July

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

More brave new world, via Jerome a Paris:

FT.com / Companies / Rail - Brussels urged to act over SNCF

The once-cosy world of European state-owned railways was given a jolt on Thursday as Italy revealed it had teamed up with Germany's Deutsche Bahn to press the European Commission to act against what they saw as unfair competition and fully liberalise national passenger markets.

Mauro Moretti, chief executive of Italy's state-owned Ferrovie dello Stato, made it clear that the Italian-German initiative was aimed primarily at France's SNCF, which he accused of unfair competition and obstruction. "This is our first action [against SNCF]," he told the Financial Times. "If there is not a positive answer we can consider other steps."EDITOR'S CHOICETensions high between rail operators

Their action follows raids by the French competition authorities last month against SNCF.

It said it would co-operate fully with the inquiries about the openness of the rail freight market, saying it was "playing the game fairly".

SNCF also rejected D Bahn's and Ferrovie's accusations, pointing out that since its rail freight market started deregulating in 2005, private competitors had taken 8 per cent of the market - a point it said took 10 years to be reached in Germany.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 07:09:45 PM EST
BTW. What kind of impression does the last photo in the diary leave on you? What caption would you write under it if you didn't seen mine?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 06:10:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would probably have thought he was  a CEO for a train company launching a new high speed train...  He looks a bit smug in his fancy surroundings but that is not unexpected.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 08:57:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The decoration of the surroundings throws back to the times of Railways concessions in Napoleon IIIrd France... "The Baron de Rocincourt will build the Paris-Rennes line with capital lent by the Bretagne General Bank for Trade and Industry"

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 09:06:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The floor is so slippery that the photographer is falling down.
by asdf on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 11:42:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Will the Paris-Rome day trains use the high speed line ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 07:34:25 PM EST
Day trains? The only direct train I can find is a night train (EN 227). The schedule of that train doesn't change.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 07:48:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two more lines were to open at the end of 2008 -- and their further delay both parallels and is directly linked to Italian high-speed troubles.

On one hand, the Netherlands and Belgium ordered 250 km/h trains jointly from AnsaldoBreda (the maker of the ETR 500) - which just don't arrive from the maker. (Denmark had/has similar problems.)

On the other hand, recently resumed testing on HSL-Zuid (the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp line) showed that even Siemens's improved ERTMS Level 2 version 2.3.0 has problems, thus even simple locomotive-pulled trains won't run on the line until March 2009 at the earliest.

In Belgium, HSL3 from Liège to the German border (at Aachen) is on hold until the middle of 2009 for similar reasons.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 07:38:35 PM EST
When one uses the Thalys to Brussels or Paris from Cologne, one sees why the HSL3 is so necessary.  From Aachen to Liège is equivalent to stage coach speeds, though for parts of the line you can see all the new construction.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:27:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The line itself was finished last year -- a truly ridiculous situation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:49:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
of the current Italian network, overall?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 04:58:59 AM EST
I updated the outdated map from Wikipedia:

(RFI is the Italian rail infrastructure manager, TAV is the special high-speed rail construction authority that became RFI's subsidiary.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:48:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I travelled through Italy I went from Bergamo to Milano to Venezia to Firenze.  I didn't have any difficulties with that but the journeys themselves were not especially long.  When I wanted to find a way to go from Toulouse to Firenze, that would have been really difficult with the time I had so I abandoned that.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 08:55:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
FS used the occasion of every new line to break its own record in test runs - by minute amounts: 348 km/h on the Rome-Naples line, 350.8 and then 352.0 km/h on the Turin-Novara line, and back on 1 March, 355.5 km/h on Milan-Bologna. Here is a video of the last-mentioned run:

(Though the test train had only 3 middle cars, the acceleration from 199 km/h to the top speed took more than ten minutes.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:16:09 AM EST
You can also check the speed profile of a regular train on the Turin-Novara-Milano line (Novara being quite obviously at c. 98 km, after which 160 km/h is barely reached on the old line).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:53:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another fantastic diary, DoDo. Thanks.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:28:53 AM EST
Do you happen to have any idea what effect these new trains will have on capacity? The anecdotal evidence I'm seeing of Italians switching from cars to trains (due to gas prices) is accumulating, and I'm sure glad I'll be out of Italy during the Christmas season. I was waiting in line at the information office yesterday, to out find if it was really true that the night trains no longer stop in Trento (I'm afraid it is true), and everybody was swapping horror stories of recent overfull/overbooked trains.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 11:54:54 AM EST
I don't know what was the Milan-Rome and Milan-Bologna frequency before. In theory, capacity could not have been boosted; then again, the number of train units didn't increase much.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 12:06:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a short TV documentary (in Italian) on the inauguration:

The stuff I could make out sound like out of a tragicomedy.

  • Though the train did make the trip in the advertised 65 minutes, that involved an unplanned stop -- because of signal loss with the new signalling system (ERTMS Level 2 strikes again)...

  • The President of FS emphasized that they don't want to compete the ailing national air carrier Alitalia - huh... He said they more want to compete cars.

  • The protest you see on the video is by commuters: to make way for more high-speed trains at Milan's Central station, commuter train runs were cut (e.g. diverted to other stations in Milan). In this context, I should look up how much of the project to build a tunnel route across the city for commuter trains is in service so far (IIRC it should pass under Milano Centrale).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 03:58:53 PM EST
Still better than the inauguration of the TGV Est when the French politicians had the train stop midway so that they'd reach the stop by plane...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 04:25:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL... no, methings that French story (haven't heard it yet) is better: it is an advertisement for the speed of the TGV...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 04:31:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The  story is that at the start of the inaugural train the journalists were told Fillon was working in car 11 ; the train made an unexpected 20 minutes stop in Nancy-Lorraine and afterwards the PM made himself available to the rest of the journalists... The Ecology minister at the time, Juppé, also came in the Falcon that was bringing Fillon !

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Dec 14th, 2008 at 05:07:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I should look up how much of the project to build a tunnel route across the city for commuter trains is in service so far (IIRC it should pass under Milano Centrale).

I find Passante ferroviario di Milano was finished in 2004, and rapid transit lines at both ends were re-routed across it the summer of this year (also see UrbanRail's Milano page) - however, it passes one subway stop (or a good 600 m walk) away from Milano Centrale.

That's not an awful good planning... they should be building a second, North-South passante via the Central Station.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 15th, 2008 at 06:33:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's your take on ERTMS? It seems to me that the implementation is fairly disasterous so far. I think the idea of harmonisation is worthwhile, though.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 6th, 2009 at 03:51:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The idea of harmonisation is extremely worthwile, even if it takes 30 years to fit out all mainlines. Such interoperability issues is what keeps rail freight from achieving what it an on the most ideal distances -- when 600-1000 km crosses borders...

I should also underline that ERTMS Level 1 (in which signals are given only by fixed magnets in the middle of the track, the "Eurobalises") is not problematic, and I think having it everywere would be a plus even if some of the current national signalling systems allow a higher train frequency.

For ERRTMS Level 2, I think the problem is clearly the system chosen. (Though I imagine that getting a conventional cable and lineside signal based, high-speed-capable signalling system would face the difficulty of choice -- e.g. the fight between something based on the French TVM430 or the German LZB.)

To put it simply: it is but a minute nuisance if you lose signal in the middle of a phone call and the call breaks off, in say every 20th call. But when that happens for a continuous signalling system, the train will have to stop. So normal 3G wireless is just not stable enough for this purpose. You can try to get through signal holes with software, but the HSL Zuid experience seems to show that may not be a universal patch.

Maybe ERTMS Level 2 will one day master these problems fully, I don't know -- but when just in Italy, two years of experience on two lines running on ERTMS Level 2 only is not enough, I'm not optimistic.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 6th, 2009 at 05:42:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... and by the way, thanks for posting that picture of the single arch cable-stayed bridge, I'm using it as an example of cable-stayed support structures that would be beneficial to property values in downtown Newcastle (NSW) ...

Where does one get rail project cost numbers?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 02:37:10 PM EST

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