Train­ing regime

On and off the rails from top to toe in Italy

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - TIM PARKS

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.