Italy announces special tourist trains and ‘cruise’ rail routes

As the human-induced climate crisis continues, one European country is looking to make train travel not just the sustainable option – but the most fun one, too.

Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane (FS), Italy’s state-owned railway operator, has announced a new program of tourist-focused trains, using vintage locomotives on popular vacation routes.

There are three wings to the new project. “Lusso” (luxury) trains will be spearheaded by the long-distance, super-luxury Orient Express Dolce Vita train, which will now launch in 2024, instead of this year as previously anticipated.

The legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, now owned by hotel company Belmond, will also come under this category, since FS already provides rolling stock and staff, as it does for other luxury charters including Golden Eagle trains.

Next up are “Espressi” (Express) and “treni storici” – vintage trains – plying new medium and long routes from major cities to tourist areas, such as Milan to the Ligurian and Tuscan coasts, and a night train looping the south, leaving from Rome and stopping at Otranto in Puglia and Metaponto in Basilicata, before heading around the Ionian coast (the toe of Italy’s boot) to Reggio Calabria. These new routes will include night trains.

Espresso trains will use rolling stock from the 1980s and 1990s, refurbished to offer 21st-century details such as restaurant cars, sleeping cabins, meeting rooms and storage areas for bicycles and skis. Services will follow seasonal tourism trends, backing up existing Trenitalia routes.

Cruising on the rails

There will even be “cruise trains” – routes conceived with the idea of shuttling vacationers back and forth from short breaks. For instance, one leaving Rome on a Friday night will allow guests to dine and sleep as the train heads north towards the Dolomites, reaching the station of Calalzo-Pieve (for the famous ski destination Cortina d’Ampezzo) in the morning. From there, bus transfers can take passengers to Cortina, 45 minutes away, and the train will be waiting for them to return to Rome on Sunday night. Another mooted route will be a five- or six-day trip from central to southern Italy, passing through five regions from Umbria to Puglia.

Meanwhile, FS Treni Turistici Italiani will take over the running of the vintage trains which the Fondazione FS currently runs across the country. It currently has a fleet of 400 trains.

Finally, the “omnibus-regionali” category will be slower, weekend services on regional trains at lower prices. These routes will be chosen to include landscapes of interest, and places with strong food and drink traditions. The stops and timings will be chosen to maximize the visitor experience.

Combating mass tourism

Speaking at the launch beside a train composed of prototype carriages to be used in the project, FS CEO Luigi Ferraris, said in a statement that the new program aims to “relaunch and develop high-quality and sustainable tourism which is ready to appreciate the richness of our country, and discover lesser known places.”

He added that the aim was “to make the train journey an integral part of the client’s experience, creating synergies with other tourist activities, from guided tours of archeological sites to hiking, as well as tastings of typical products, thereby focusing on the traditions and the economies of the areas [the routes] will cover.”

Antonio Tajani, Italy’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, said in a message delivered at the launch that the new project was part of a “modern tourism strategy” for the country, which is suffering from the effects of overtourism.

The new outfit will acquire its fleet from Trenitalia’s regular rolling stock, and will overhaul trains to make them “specifically designed for the needs of tourists” – including charter trains for religious pilgrimages and secular ones to Italy’s cities of art.

They also aim to construct new hi-tech carriages, including Swiss-style panoramic decks, and build a fleet of restaurant cars showcasing the best of Italian cuisine.

Italy is becomingly increasingly crowded as tourists from around the world flock for a taste of dolce vita. In 2022 the country saw around 56 million arrivals. That figure is predicted to hit 75 million for 2023.

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