Italy has a fantastic rail system served by Trenitalia, the government owned passenger rail service, Italio, a private passenger rail service providing high speed connections between larger cities, various regional and local train services, and several international passenger trains.
Trenitalia is the largest provider with the most stations and the greatest number of daily trains. Trenitalia offers several types of trains and several classes of service.
Buying Tickets – For Trenitalia trains, you can buy tickets from the ticket window at larger stations, from ticket machines, or online using the Trenitalia website or app. At a small station, there may be only one or two ticket machines. Some of them take bills, some take coins, and some take certain credit cards. Most Trenitalia ticket machines take most international credit cards, but certain older machines, especially in more remote places, only take credit cards that use the euro “chip and pin” validation system. The physical form of the tickets also vary depending on the kind of machine you use to buy one.
The best alternative for me is to use the Trenitalia app on my phone. The tickets are bought and paid for using the app. Tickets are issued electronically and can be stored in a digital wallet. I started using this when the ticket machine at a station I used frequently stopped working. When I found out how well the app worked, I pretty much have used it ever since.
Normal Trains – The slowest trains are the Regionale (indicated by an “R” on the schedule). These stop at stations in smaller cities and go a bit slower. Regionale Veloce (indicated by an RV on the schedule) trains are faster, stop at fewer stations and in some cases, provide both 2nd and 1st class coaches. The class of the coach is written on the side of the train.
The difference between 1st and 2nd class is, on many trains, difficult to notice. Often 1st class cars have tables between seats while 2nd class cars usually do not. However, on some RV trains, there may be 1st class cars being used for 2nd class service. It’s confusing.
Tickets for R and RV trains can be purchased from ticket machines in the station, from ticket counters at larger stations, or on your cell phone using the Trenitalia app. Note that in smaller stations, ticket machines may not be operational, or may only take credit cards, only currency, or only coins. For me, the app is usually the best way to go, but be sure to have the ticket saved on your phone so that if there is no internet when the conductor comes around, you can still prove you have a ticket.
Validating Your Ticket
If you have a paper ticket for an R or RV train, you must validate it at a validation machine before boarding the train. The tickets are good for several hours. When you validate your ticket (slide it in the slot as shown and move it to the left), the date and time is stamped on your ticket and you are good to go. If you use the app, you do not need to validate the ticket.
If you have a paper ticket for an R or RV train, you must validate it at a validation machine before boarding the train. The tickets are good all day. When you validate your ticket (slide it in the slot as shown and move it to the left), the date and time is stamped on your ticket and you are good to go. If you use the app, you do not need to validate the ticket.
I take a lot of Italian trains, and usually see the conductor once out of every four or five trips. If the conductor doesn’t come by for your ticket, just get off the train and go about your business. If the ticket machine in the station is not working (not unknown at smaller stations), when you get on the train, immediately walk from one end of the train to the other looking for the conductor and explain the problem. You can usually buy a ticket from her/him if you ask first. If however, you don’t have a ticket when the conductor comes to check, you may be fined as much as 200 Euros.
Remember to validate your R or RV ticket before boarding the train.
High Speed Trains – Trenitalia has four or five (depending on how you count) types of high speed trains and they run between all the major Italian cities.
Italo is a private competitor and has high speed trains between some of the major cities. All high speed train tickets include a reservation for a specific seat on the train. You do not need to validate a high speed train ticket prior to boarding.
Trenitalia high speed trains include Intercity (indicated by IC on the schedule) and three types of “Arrow” trains. These includes Frecciabianca, Frecciargento, and Frecciarosso trains, and Italio’s highspeed trains.
One final type of national train is the Intercity Notte from Trenitalia. These trains run through the night offer very comfortable sitting and sleeping options.
There are also several provincial and regional train systems that are a little more difficult to figure out. The internet and translation apps are your friend here.