Saturday, 29 June 2013

What's the difference between First and Second Class in Italian trains?

It seems I'm now an expert on the Italian railway system! Several readers have written in to ask "what's the difference between First and Second Class in Italian trains?" The qualifier is that it depends on the type of train.

Just a reminder - the fast train network in peninsular Italy is faster, cheaper and much more convenient and comfortable than flying. If you are travelling to and from Sicily, there are comfortable, time-efficient, overnight, sleeper trains. Note also that rail passes almost never make economic sense for train travel in Italy.

Let me start with the Frecciarossa and Italo superfast, long distance trains.

Frecciarossa second class seats
Frecciarossa second class seats
Second class seats are two plus two across the width of the carriage. They are airline-style seats but nevertheless perfectly comfortable, especially for smaller people (like me). Taller people, especially men, sometimes find it tiresome to squeeze their legs in and out from under the table. Nevertheless, the general travel experience is perfectly acceptable even for 3 hours. The baggage racks handle quite large suitcases and are made of glass so that it's easier to see if you've left anything behind. For really big suitcases, there is some but not a lot of space in special racks at either end of the carriage. In principle, these latter are not all that secure since someone could board a carriage, pick up a suitcase and take it off while the train is in a station. Up until now I haven't heard of any problems in this regard.

Frecciarossa first class seats
Frecciarossa first class seats
 First class is very spacious. The seats are lounge-type and there are only three of them across the width of the train. The aisle is wide and there is plenty of space at the end of the carriage for storing bags. Passengers receive a newspaper and an insignificant drink and snack. If budget is no object, first class is a very comfortable way to travel. There are in fact more than one type of First Class, Business class being the least expensive. Others include Business Area Silenzio, Business Salottino (a kind of glassed in area of four seats with maximum recline) and Executive. The latter includes a hot meal and drinks.

IMPORTANT TIP: Tickets for the Frecciarossa can and should be bought on-line as long in advance as possible. Be sure to check the prices for different train times (and even days, if you have the flexibility) since the prices vary by train, by time and day of departure and depending on when you're booking. Very cheap Super Economy tickets are often available (note that you CANNOT change these reservations and there is no refund if you miss the train) AND sometimes First Class tickets are available at the same reduced price as for Second Class. These will be displayed during the on-line reservation and represent incredible value for money.

You can and should use the ticketless option for superfast trains within Italy - just make a note of your ticket reference and tell it to the conductor. Many passengers store this on their cell phone. Or you can have a ticket emailed to you and either store that on your cell phone or print it out.

There is good WiFi connectivity - you just need a cell phone with an Italian SIM card (i.e. a 0039 phone number) to register and obtain your password.

There are of course good bar and restaurant carriages in the middle of these superfast trains.

All other trains represent considerable variety and I don't want to describe them all in detail here. They include, in order of decreasing speed, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca, InterCity (IC), Espresso, Regionale & local trains (E, R). For Espresso and slower trains, a reservation is neither needed nor possible BUT you MUST frank (validate) all Italian regional and local train tickets immediately before boarding your train, by putting them into the small yellow or green machines at the entrance to every platform.  There's a painful and unavoidable fine if you don't have a validated ticket.

The differences between First and Second Class on these slower trains: 

Frecciargento: These trains are very similar to the Frecciarossa in terms of level of comfort and differences between First and Second Class. They run on some of the subsidiary routes, notably Bologna to Venice. Maximum speed 125 kph. Air-conditioned.

Frecciabianca: Again running at up to 125 kph and air-conditioned, these are InterCity carriages that have been refurbished for high speed travel and have a good level of comfort.

Intercity train in Italy
Intercity train

InterCity: These are the standard "old time" carriages, sometimes still with compartments with seating for six passengers in Second Class and for four people in First Class. Both classes also sometimes have open plan seating. On many routes there is no reason to take these trains unless your budget is highly constrained or you wish to reach a station not served by a Frecciarossa. Reservations are obligatory for IC trains but there is often space right up to when the train departs.

Regionale: apart from wider and slightly more comfortable seats, plus lower seat density, the First Class seats on the Regionale trains usually recline, unlike those in Second Class. This can mean a difference in comfort on long trips. However, there are relatively few Regionale trains left that have First Class carriages. You find them on longer distance routes such as Florence - Rome, Florence - Foligno and Bolzano - Bologna.

USEFUL TIP: Some Regionale First Class carriages have been "declassed" ("declassato") to Second Class. The "declassment" notice is usually posted on the door of the carriage. In this case, holders of Second Class tickets can sit in the First Class carriage that has been "declassed".

Italian local train
Italian local train

Local trains and railcars usually have a single class of carriage and are satisfactory for journeys of up to 45 minutes or so. They cover distance slowly because of the numerous stops they make, these being the trains you use to reach small towns and villages. Because they are sometimes crowded and make frequent stops, these trains are favorites for train thieves, especially in the area of Naples. Gypsy thieves specialise in the short routes from airports to city centres.

More about high speed trains in Italy.

More about getting around in Tuscany.

More about steam engine train trips in Tuscany.

Timetables and booking:

www.trenitalia.com
www.italotreno.it
www.trenord.it for Milano-Tirano and some local trains in northern Italy.
www.vesuviana.it for trains from Naples to Pompeii and Sorrento - buy tickets at the station.

Vacation rentals in Tuscany
www.bella-toscana.com

Today's top links for everything you need to know about what to do and where to stay in Chianti:



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