Schedule: An Italian Train Survival Guide

A short guideand Italian train schedule to make the most of your Italian vacation and the Ferrovia rail system.

As the old joke goes, the one good thing about Mussolini's reign was that the trains always ran on time. True or not, it says a lot about the Italian rail system, or Ferrovia. The system can be inconsistent and sometimes confusing, but when used correctly it can also be a cheap and easy alternative to car transportation in a country where gas can cost upwards of $4.00 a gallon. Use this guide to give you an edge in planning your next trip in Italy, it can save you time and energy.

So What's the Inside Scoop?

1.Depend on the Machine- The most underappreciated piece of Italian design is the Ferrovia automatic ticketing machine, blue behemoths that sit in every station just waiting to hand out tickets. Easy to use and available in English, they allow you to quickly purchase tickets for any day within a year and to any destination served by the Ferrovia.

The real beauty of the system, besides the fact that almost no one uses it, is that you can walk up to it without any information, unlike ticket windows which require you to already have an itinerary. The machine lets you search by destination, and will give you 4 different train routes that generally meet your time requirements. Once you find your preferred itinerary, you have the choice of paying with either cash or a credit card.

Still doesn't sound like enough of a convenience? Beyond the traditional ticketing and scheduling services, the automatic terminals also offer seat reservations on the majority of trains. Just make sure that you use the service at least 4 hours before your train leaves and you'll save yourself the inconvenience of the lines and errors associated with Ferrovia ticket windows.

2.Invest In First Class- Because airline first class is so prohibitively expensive, most people assume the supplement isn't worthwhile on any form and transportation, but that's just not true. First class is a lifesaver for the weary traveler, and it's only 15-20% more expensive than a second class ticket.

But what are the real advantages of a first class ticket? The most important is extra space, the biggest disadvantage of train transportation. Seats in first class are approximately three inches wider, and there are almost six inches more between seats, which means extra legroom as well.

The second advantage is the more peaceful environment in first class, stemming both from the reduced numbers of passengers in a car and the type of traveler. No screaming children here, there's mostly just Italian businessmen and older travelers. As if the value of silence wasn't enough on a long trip, most first class routes include free coffee and/or a newspaper, just one of the comforting.

3.Surf Before You Ride- Of all the small annoyances of riding the rail in Italy, one of the worst is planning a travel itinerary ahead of time. The time-books are cryptic and the website's no better, but you need to know a route before you dare to step into line to buy a ticket"¦

4.The Smoking Switch- Whether you're a smoker or not, don't be fooled into buying a smoking ticket. The compartments are miserable and poorly air-conditioned, turning every ride into a prison sentence. My recommendation? Buy a non-smoking ticket, then slip into the smoking compartment when you need to indulge your habit. That little "commute" will make your ride infinitely more pleasant.

5.Convert to Metrics- If you're planning to stay in Italy for a long period, perhaps for a job or study abroad program, then the kilometer pass is the solution for you. Bought in large bundles, the kilometers are then used up incrementally, with the passenger only being charged for the exact distance they travel, and the cost per kilometer being relatively low as compared to tickets purchased for specific trips.

© High Speed Ventures 2011