Written in August 2012
Situation of Italian railways is not so good. Generally Italian people (and politicians) consider railway as a waste and a cost rather than an opportunity. This means that reducing railway services is considered as a "brilliant solution" to save money. Only few exceptions exist: one is South Tyrol (which is more similar to Germany than Italy!), one is (partially) Tuscany, and finally one is Lombardy, the only Region in which rail service was increased even in the last two years (2010-2011), when all other Regions were cutting trains and lines.
In more details, in December 2011 Lombardy has completed the design of the Passante Ferroviario and the suburban service of Milan, introducing the last S-Line still missing (new line S13 towards Pavia). The main difference between Lombardy and most of other Italian Regions is that in Lombardy there is a project of improving and developing rail services (more details in English and Italian). This has became part of the political proposal of the Regional Government and therefore the required subsidies to increase regional railway services have been found within the regional budget, even if State funding, in the last two years, was incredibly confusing and changing month after month.
Other regions have started to cut services here and there, and many lines are already closed or "almost closed" (more details in Italian). At the beginning no line was "officially closed": most of them saw a progressive reduction in the number of trains, some sort of euthanasia - you can call.
In December 2011, in Abruzzo, the Sulmona - Castel di Sangro was closed. This was generally considered one of the most beautiful Italian railways, and was part of an impressive diesel route through Appennini. The previous section Castel di Sangro - Isernia was closed one year before (October 2010), therefore cancelling the direct trains from Naples to Pescara, that only few years before were important and appreciated connections.
Regione Piemonte officially closed 11 lines in June 2012 (including 2 already closed in last years). For the first time the closure was not hidden under an excuse (such as a problem in a tunnel or lack of rolling stock and so on). They said "we do not want to pay for such trains, because passengers are too few". Of course they didn't say WHY passengers were so few: bad timetable, few trains per day, continuous and unanticipated cancellations of runs, etc. They also presented figures (subsidies, number of passengers) in an ambiguous way in order to convey the idea that railway was a waste of money (more details in Italian)
Lines Closed in Piemonte in 2012
Yellow: Lines with reduction of service
The closure announcement was deliberately at very short notice: it was part of the strategy of Regione Piemonte to reduce criticism against such decision. We had a sure proof of the closure (scheduled on 17 June) only in the very last days of May.
The closure of 11 lines achieves very poor economical benefits: 24% of Piemonte rail network was closed, involving 6000 passengers per day, and they saved no more than 15 million euros per year. The contract Trenitalia-Piemonte has a value of 230 million euros and the full budget of Regione Piemonte has a value of 17 billion euros, so the saving is more than negligible: around 6% of rail subsidy and no more than 0.09% of Piemonte's budget.
Furthermore, in December 2011 Trenitalia cut night services from North to South: traditional services from Turin/Milan/Venice to Sicily were transformed into services from Rome to Sicily, in order to convey passengers towards more expensive Frecciarossa (high speed trains) in their travel between North and Rome, with a time saving of around 3 hours on a 20-hour travel. The same occurred along the Adriatic line, where services to Puglia now originate from Bologna (instead of Turin/Milan/Venice).
All these train belong to service contract between Trenitalia and Italian State (so they do receive subsidies) and the formal reason for cutting them was a reduction in State subsidies, although many people think that it was part of Trenitalia's own strategy of dismissing services not belonging to what they consider their core business, i.e. high speed trains only.
The night services to Southern Italy cancelled in December 2011 have been partially reintroduced in June 2012, due to an agreement between Trenitalia and Italian State. Now we have again a Milan-Palermo/Siracusa (following the Genoa route).
It is difficult to make forecasts for next months. The "Piemonte recipe" is hard to apply in other Regions, at least at such extent. But a general reduction in the number of trains, especially during the weekend, is expected in many cases (except Lombardy, of course).
The situation of State funds is, if possible, even more confused than last year. Between summer 2010 and summer 2012 we had 17 laws or State-Region agreements dealing with public transport (list in Italian): I think no other Country in the world has achieved such a negative record!
At present, State funds for service in 2013 have a value of 1200 million euros, while contracts with Trenitalia would require at least 1700 million euros, so that 500 million euros are missing. Presumably Regions will not be able to cut services at a so high degree, but many of them will use this as a justification to reduce their services anyway.
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