The promenade at Reggio di Calabria with Sicily in the distance (photo © Nata_rass / dreamstime.com)
Italian state rail operator Trenitalia and its private sector rival NTV Italo have been very agile over many years, both in responding to changing patterns of demand for rail services and in reacting to innovations by the other party.
For summer 2023, the headline developments in southern Italy are on the main route south to Calabria (Table 640 in the European Rail Timetable). This route from Rome and Naples down to the toe of Italy forms part of Route 48 in the 17th edition of our book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide.
With the new Italian rail timetables which started on 11 June, there are now eight premium trains each day running down to the toe of Italy. Five are Frecciarossa services run by Trenitalia and three are NTV Italo services. This summer, the fierce competition between Trenitalia and Italo on this main route south from Naples ramps up with both operators extending their market reach by serving new communities. This is achieved by new multi-modal connections (with rail-bus and rail-sea links) and adding in extra station stops on the long main-line journey south to Calabria.
Cast back just five years to the summer of 2018, and passengers travelling south from Salerno towards Calabria were ill served by fast trains. Salerno was the end of the line for most high-speed services. The only Frecciarossa train travelling beyond Salerno was an evening service which left Rome at 18.50. It ran to Taranto in Apulia, arriving there just before midnight and returning from Taranto at 05.50 in the morning to reach Salerno at 09.14 and Rome at 11.10.
Back in 2018, NTV Italo didn’t run south of Salerno at all.
How things have changed. This summer Trenitalia are running five daily Frecciarossa services from Rome and Naples to Reggio di Calabria. And, as a mark of their commitment to the Calabrian market, Trenitalia has confirmed that all five Frecciarossa trains will continue to run beyond the main summer season. These trains are now bookable right through to early December 2023.
In addition to the five Frecciarossa trains, there are also two Frecciargento trains, one of which remains in the timetable right through the autumn. The other is a seasonal summer service which runs daily until Sunday 17 September. Most of these trains originate from well north of Rome, giving through daytime services to Calabria from over a dozen cities in northern Italy. It’s now possible to travel in Executive Class comfort on a direct Frecciarossa 1000 train from Venice or Milan to Reggio di Calabria. Both journeys take about ten hours.
NTV Italo, not wanting to be outclassed by Trenitalia, has also strengthened its offer to Italy’s deep south, and this summer is offering thrice daily services to Reggio di Calabria, respectively starting in Turin, Milan and Rome. In a bold move, NTV Italo is now offering through bookings to Sicily. Passengers travel south to Villa San Giovanni for the ferry over to Sicily with onward bus connections to half a dozen cities across Sicily.
These new train-ferry-bus links with Italo launched on 21 June. Italo has long extended the tentacles of its network through offering rail-coach connections to cities beyond Italo railheads, but that initiative is being extended through NTV’s recent acquisition (in May 2023) of Itabus, a major Italian operator of long-distance coach services. Itabus is partnering with Italo to offer the new Sicily links.
For travellers following Route 48 in Europe by Rail, there is now a better choice of daytime trains than ever before. The route south to Calabria and Sicily is of course also well served by Trenitalia’s overnight trains where sleeping cars bound for Sicily are still shunted on board the ferry across the Strait of Messina.