Global Economics

Italy’s high-speed trains aided in the demise of Alitalia

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When Francesco Galietti needed to go from his hometown of Rome to Milan for work, he used to fly the approximately 400-mile distance. He rides the train today.

Galietti, the CEO of Policy Sonar, a political risk consultant based in Rome, is not alone. According to 2019 figures given by Italy’s state railway firm Ferrovie dello Stato, the number of passengers travelling the train on the country’s primary commercial route, between Rome and Milan, has nearly quadrupled in a decade, from 1 million in 2008 to 3.6 million in 2018.

The train is presently used by more than two-thirds of those travelling between the two cities. It’s a stunning endorsement for Italy’s high-speed train network, which opened in 2008.

The nearly 400 miles between Milan and Rome can be covered in as little as 2 hours and 59 minutes. The railway stations, of course, are in the city centre, and there’s no need to be early because the doors close two minutes before departure.

When compared to a minimum half-hour trip to Rome’s Fiumicino airport, checking in 90 minutes before departure, an hour in the air, and then landing outside Milan (the closest airport, Linate, is about a 20-minute drive into town), it’s easy to see why people prefer the train.

“Alitalia was a bird with its wings very much clipped from the start — for an international carrier, it was very much focused on the domestic market,” he says. Of course, in some ways, that makes sense: most Italians vacation in Italy, and visitors want to see everything the nation has to offer.

Flying into Milan and then on to Naples or Rome is a natural next step for individuals arriving from countries where air travel is widespread, such as the United States. However, according to Galietti, Alitalia’s domestic focus made it vulnerable to competition when the low-cost airline revolution began – and then from high-speed trains.

“It was a nasty cocktail,” he says. “On that [domestic] market they had massive competition from low-cost airlines and trains. Myself, if I have to go to Milan, Turin or Venice, I take the train, like many others.

The Frecciarossa (one of the high-speed trains) goes from city center to city center, you don’t land 20 miles outside the suburbs — it’s a terrible competition [for Alitalia].” Tourists feel the same way. Cristina Taylor, a frequent visitor to Italy from the UK, says she finds taking the train “easier.”

“You leave and arrive from city centers, there’s no airport check-in or transits between airports to the cities. Also they’ve gotten better over the years in terms of accommodating international passengers in the sense that there are proper places to put your suitcases. “I do think it’s good value — you save time and money.”

Story by : Norvisi Mawunyegah