The fast freccie rosse and freccie bianche super-inter-city trains are the pride and joy of the Italian railway system and quite rightly too..
I once had the misfortune of travelling on a British “Rail” equivalent (no longer called “Railways” – they somehow ran out of the paint to complete the “ways“ bit in. As a part-time bird-watcher I am reminded of that delightful wader, the British rail, who, in my opinion, could get to most of his destinations better than what used to be the ne plus ultra of transportation system (back in the 1890’s I imagine?))
My generally impecunious self once asked for a second-class ticket single from London to Manchester, a distance of 200 miles, at the booking clerk’s counter. “We don’t have second-class tickets any more. It’s all standard class now. That’ll be £118 please.”
Upon alighting at Manchester Piccadilly station (built in more confident times) ,after an uncomfortable journey which was over half-an-hour late I went to the passenger information counter but could find none until someone reminded me it’s called “client services” now. “But I’m not a client! I replied, “I’ve only bought a train ticket, not a drink at the station bar. “Well you are now”, he replied. I then went to complain about my train journey, apparently as a “customer” and not as a bona-fide fare-paying passenger. “I’ve been sold a standard class ticket instead of the second-class one I requested”, I said. “That’s right – no second class tickets any more now.” “I wish they still were”, I answered and continued “ this is not a standard class ticket anyway –it’s a sub-standard class one judging from the experience I’ve had.” Etc. etc. Anyway enough of this or I’ll start being labelled a G.O.M!
When I bought a ticket from Bagni di Lucca to Rome last month, a distance of 229 miles, my train ticket cost me the equivalent of £25. True, I did not travel by the fastest train (which would have doubled my fare to around £50) and my journey took four hours instead of two but, when the scenery the coastal train passes through is so wonderful and the experience so relaxing and when one does not have to catch a board meeting, who cares?
Having uttered this panegyric in praise of Trenitalia I am surprised, looking back at pictures taken in March 2006, that we were promised rather better trains on our somewhat neglected but still very much used branch line from Lucca through Bagni di Lucca to Aulla. (Incidentally, this was a line built also for strategic purposes. The main coast line linking the two great naval military ports of La Spezia and Livorno was always in danger of being bombarded and cut off by enemy fire while the narrow Serchio valley made such strategies rather dangerous for the pilots. In fact, our line was never being seriously disrupted by the war – allied planes just wouldn’t take the risk.)
These pictures, now over eight years old, show the menuetto train (Model numberALe/ALn 501-ALe/ALn 502, home built at Savigliano workshops) to replace the still current ALn 668 e ALe 801 series – in service since 1956!)
and being spotted (and alighted at) Bagni di Lucca station on a somewhat murky day. As lovers of ancient dance know, the menuetto (or minuet) is in ¾ time and these trains had a unified design of three interlocking and interconnecting carriages. They were smooth, clean, comfortable, stylish and warm.
Whatever happened to them? I was informed by one railway official that there were technical problems with the rail-line gradients and also difficulties with loading gauge, especially at that very narrow tunnel at la Lupaccina (only completed in 1956).
Why do we have to wait so long again? Please, please bring back our menuetti and then perhaps:
Se vuol ballare, signor contino,
il chitarrino le suonerò, sì,
se vuol venire nella mia scuola,
la capriola le insegnerò, sì.
STOP PRESS: I’ve just read in “Toscana notizie” that we could have the lovely menuetto back.. very soon..
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!