It’s the first Saturday morning in May, and heads are turning at Florence’s Santa Maria Novella railway station. Cellphones pop up as commuters and shoppers snap the sleek, new high-speed train that has just pulled into Platform 9. It’s not high-speed rail that’s the novelty—Italy has had that since the early 1990s—but the fact that Italo, as the newcomer is called, is the first high-speed competitor to the nation’s rail network.
Beginning commercial service just a week before, Italo plies the Naples-Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan line—easily the country’s most lucrative rail route. It’s been dubbed the “Ferrari train”—partly for its deep-red cars, but mostly because Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori, the company that has staked $1.3 billion to launch Italo, is headed by Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.
In terms of travel time, there’s little difference between Italo’s 25-train fleet and the high-speed trains run by state-owned Trenitalia: Both reach a speed of 223 miles per hour and can go from Rome to Milan in about three hours. Prices, too, are similar, with both companies extending special offers. But where Italo aims to beat Trenitalia is on style, comfort and service.
The Club carriage I traveled in between Florence and Rome is a notch above the first-class option on Trenitalia. With just 19 roomy seats, the Club “ambiance” (Italo eschews the word class) makes for a relaxed ride. Keen staffers offer free papers, coffee, soft drinks and snacks, and video consoles are hidden in each seat’s armrest.
Italo avoids the central terminus stations of Roma Termini and Milano Centrale, opting instead for more peripheral stops like Roma Tiburtina. (That said, its main Milan port of call, Milano Porta Garibaldi, trumps Centrale for access to the downtown fashion district.)
Perhaps the only category in which Italo fails to match or outdo the competition is dining. Most Trenitalia trains feature full-service restaurant cars on long-distance routes. Italo, on the other hand, limits its economy-class Smart ambiance clients to coffee and snacks from vending machines, while those traveling in Club or the slightly less luxurious Prima can opt for a selection of deli-style snacks. Sourced from the food mall Eataly, they are tasty and organic—but it’s still packaged food in a plastic box.
Ferrari Train Details
Tickets from Rome to Milan, by class, are $165 for Club (luxury), $150 for Prima (first) and $110 for Smart (economy). For additional details, go to italotreno.it.