On and off the rails from top to toe in Italy
VIAGGIO Treno is a page on Trenitalia’s website that gives you the exact position of all the trains in the country. Amapof Italy opens with double lines indicating the main train routes in each direction; you can choose the region that interests you and home in on that. If the line is dark blue there is a train on it; if it’s light blue, there isn’t.
You then click on your dark blue line and a small table appears indicating the various trains on the line, their present positions, any eventual delays. In short, it’s as if you had a huge toy train in your front room with all the Freccie and Intercities and Interregionali moving back and forth on it from the top to the bottom of the peninsula.
Sure enough, the Verona to Bologna line was dark blue. I clicked. The Frecciargento 9461 had now passed through Poggio Rusco and was running just 10 minutes late. It must have left just as I settled down in the [station] bar.
Unfortunately, my ticket was valid for that journey only. Could I claim my money back for a train that had departed more or less on time? No. Could I ever prove that a delay of 80 minutes had been posted? Probably not. Could I claim expenses from Palazzo Strozzi for a ticket I had bought on a train I had not boarded? Hardly.
But the most curious thing of all, I realised now, was that I had appeared to be the only person at the station who had missed that train, the only one rushing around in an angry panic at 7.20am.
There were two explanations for this: first, that the other passengers were perhaps even now in McDonald’s waiting out the 80 minutes; second, that the other passengers were not so foolish as to have trusted the delay announcement and, knowing the train started its journey from Verona, had hung around, on the freezing platform, or at least somewhere in the vicinity where they could see the departures board and hear the station announcements and above all the coincidenze, which you cannot do in McDonald’s.
Of these two hypotheses I preferred the first, but all my experience told me the second must be true. Never lower your guard with Trenitalia.
The following day I boarded the same train at 6.45am, had an uneventful journey, and was able to see for myself that the Frecciargento did indeed complete this trip of about 210 arduous kilometres in just an hour and a half.
The train races south over the open plain and the broad waters of the Po to Bologna, then hurtles under the Apennines through tunnel after tunnel, reaching speeds of almost 322km/h.
Distances that in 1848 took Garibaldi weeks in his revolutionary back and forth across these mountains are eaten up in minutes. It’s a fantastic achievement.
The woman sitting across the aisle from me thought so too. When the ticket inspector arrived, shortly before Bologna, she had no ticket to show him. Rather grand, in her sixties, but frayed at the edges, wearing a dark red coat that she hadn’t taken off despite the excellent heating, she began to protest that she did have her ticket somewhere. Must have. Her son had bought it for her. She had put it in her handbag. She distinctly remembered. The inspector was patient but something in the woman’s voice was beginning to give her away as not quite compos mentis.
‘‘You people are always bothering me,’’ she suddenly announced. Her mouth seemed strangely big and ill- defined, as if her features were as frayed as her coat. ‘‘That’s the trouble with this country. The honest people are harassed while the rich get off scot-free, the cheats, the tax dodgers, the presumptuous.’’
Unnecessarily, the inspector remarked that it was important for passengers to pay for their tickets; otherwise the railway would go broke. The woman met the objection with another tirade of abuse. Why didn’t he believe her when she told him she had the ticket? Did he think she was a liar? Her voice strained with righteous indignation. The more animated she became, the more evident was the decay in her face.
The inspector began to fill out a form for a fine. It was a long form; was mentioned. Plus the price of the ticket.
These inspectors always have to work smoothing layers of carbon paper on a book or bag and touching malfunctioning Biros to their lips while the speeding train packed with revolutionary technologies sways and accelerates and brakes.
The woman seemed alarmed and her voice became almost hysterical. She would never pay a fine, she yelled, never, never, never. Because she did have a ticket, if only she could find it. In the meantime, she had given up any pretence of looking.
‘‘I won’t give you my name,’’ she told him abruptly when he asked for it. She folded her arms in defiance. ‘‘I don’t have an ID with me.’’
By now everyone was watching. I had been trying to
Italy’s extensive network of trains traverse the nation from north to south, their movements tracked on rail operator Trenitalia’s website