Dude, Where’s My Train?

It’s not uncommon to grumble about the Italian train system because it’s not uncommon for trains to be late. It’s not uncommon to be on a train, mid-commute, and experience delays. It’s not uncommon for a train to disappear off the timetable. And it’s not uncommon to miss appointments due to a train malfunction.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This is public transportation in Italy. Le Frecce lines are much better than the Regionale when it comes to being on schedule (and obviously when it comes to train quality), but they don’t go everywhere you need to go. So, for the sake of this post, let’s restrict our discussion to the regional trains.

Example One: I’m in Cisterna di Latina during peak time for a morning commute. Hypothetically, I should have a handful of trains I can take into Rome. Instead, two trains magically disappear from the board, and two other trains I can take are now a combined 75 minutes late. It’s a bit of an inconvenience, but what can I do? I resign myself to the situation, like most other Italians do in this predicament. I know that tonight, when I leave Rome, the big timetable at Termini will be covered in red in ritardo (delayed) listings; this morning’s train delays will be nothing compared to tonight’s. Granted, in instances like this (train accident), one can’t put the blame entirely on Trenitalia’s timing.

Example Two: If I’m running a few minutes late, there’s a 50/50 chance* I’ll catch the train anyway. For example, I recently took a train from Bassano del Grappa headed for Venezia. The train was scheduled to depart at 10:25 am. I got there at 10:25 am…to find that the train was (thankfully) 10 minutes in ritardo. Of course, such things can be both a blessing and a curse. So…while I caught the train, it didn’t leave the stazione (station) until 10:45 am. Two stops later and 21 minutes behind schedule, an announcement is made: because of more complications, I have to get off at Castelfranco and switch trains to get to get to my intended station of Venezia Santa Lucia. I arrive 30 minutes behind schedule. Bear in mind, most train changes allot you approximately 10 minutes at your connection point. If you miss that window, you’re a sad panda. Meno male (thank goodness) that I took an earlier train from Bassano! The last one was scheduled to leave at 11:25 am, and I shudder to think of the dilemma I’d have been in had I waited to take that train.

Having given myself enough time allowance, I’m able to catch my connecting train to Rome with time to spare. I even do a brisk walk through familiar Venetian streets on the last day of Carnevale – a welcome respite after my harried morning. When I get to Roma Termini, however, my next train out of Rome is also running late. The commuters, anxious to get home, crowd along the platform. When the train finally pulls in a mere 10 minutes late, everyone clamors onboard as though they’re fleeing from some disaster area.

Ironically, local friends always dread my opinion of the condition of Italian trains, and they’re always surprised when I never think it’s as bad as they think I think it is. When all is said and done, I can’t really complain much about the system that gets me where I need to go. Besides, I’d MUCH rather take an Italian train than a Moroccan ferry. The poor coordination and timing of those ferries alone make Trenitalia seem practically punctual.

*To be fair, the frequently delayed trains often work to my benefit because I’m always running late.