Gareth Huw Davies

Travel Blog

Could high speed elegance help connect Naples?

New privately-run high speed train service begins in Italy

I have just “booked” myself a fabulous excursion from Rome. I’m “travelling” on the late morning high speed Italo train to Naples, returning 2 days later on the late afternoon service. Journey time in each case is one hour and 8 minutes. It’s costing me just €40 for a return trip on the world’s most modern high-speed train. I don’t even need a physical ticket. They text me a code which allows me to travel.

You have guessed by my use of inverted commas in the paragraph above that there was an element of fantasy in this exercise. But I did get as far as proceeding to check out. The tickets were available and I could have bought them for that price. (I was actually in Naples last year, so did not need to take that trip. My account is here.)

What I was attempting to do was show:

what is remarkably daring railway system Italy now operates, with Europe’s first privately-operated high speed train service, despite its financial woes, and;

how remarkably easy it is to add a visit to the country’s least fashionable big city onto a trip to Italy. Naples is, after all, seen by even well-travelled people as an edgy, uncomfortable, downright shabby place they only want to rush through on their way to Pompeii, Capri or the Amalfi Coast.

I have an Italiophile friend who said she steered well clear of what is, in my view, one of the greatest cities on earth. When looking at online travel sites, I find that her views and not so unusual. A year long garbage strike which left heaps of rubbish in the streets, wher they were  randomly set ablaze, did not help.

I prefer to think oif Naples as a charming if threadbare old aristocrat, one of the most authentic cities in Europe, on the world’s greatest bay, and against one of its most thrilling backdrops, the massive brooding cone of Vesuvius.

Italy already has high-speed trains, operated by the state railway company Trenitalia. The new Italo trains are run by NTV, a company headed by Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo. They started running on Saturday, April 28, 2012, added some exciting competition to the transport mix. NTV clearly has no problem including lower league (in a tourist sense) Naples among its destinations.

It will be running the newest high speed trains available, the Automotrice à grande vitesse, AGV, painted a seductive deep red livery. They are divided into three main “journey” ambiences,  with “five different ways of travelling”: Smart and Smart Cinema, Prima and Prima Relax, and Club. There’s free wifi throughout, and high end elegance in Club.

The train is a big, bold gamble based on that Italian obsession – style. Only Italy, you feel, could founded an entire train service on fashion.

Behind Europe’s first private high-speed train service are France’s national rail company SNCF. It owns a 20-percent stake in NTV, with the majority is held by a consortium of Italian businessmen. Trenitalia owns the railway, the stations, the waiting rooms, and the infrastructure.

The Italo trains connects all the other great Italian cities – Turin, Milan, Venice, Florence and Bologna, ending at Salerno in the South. The company is offering some quite low fares, as I discovered when I researched off-peak midweek trips (May 15-17).

High-speed trains have already been available to poor, maligned Naples for several years from Trenitalia. However the attractive new Italo services, with the sort of low prices we can scarcely imagine on crowded UK railways, are a welcome endosresement for this southern city.

Potential visitors who can’t bring themselves to arrange an extended stay in this untidy, wonderful city, can easily fit in a sample visit on some very flashy new trains.