Intercity High-Speed Rail Outlasts Italy's National Airline

European countries are committing to making intercity rail the preferable option compared to domestic and intra-continental flights. The shift seems to be working in Italy.

October 15, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A high-speed Trenitalia Frecciarossa (red arrow) train, pictured at the Milan Central Station.

A high-speed Trenitalia Frecciarossa (red arrow) train, pictured at the Milan Central Station. | feel good studio / Shutterstock

Over two thirds of people traveling between Roma and Milan take the train, with the number of passengers on the route (the main business route in Italy) quadrupling over the past decade. The trend in Italy reflects a broader cultural movement in Europe and achieves the desired effect of specific policy efforts of countries like Germany and France.

An article by Julia Buckley speculates about whether the success of intercity rail in Italy contributed to the demise of Alitalia—the national airline is shutting down business today.

According to the article, Alitalia tended to focus on domestic flights, so it "was a bird with its wings very much clipped from the start." The article mostly credits the demise of the airline on the market, not public policy. According to sources cited in the article, a "cocktail" of low-cost airlines and high-speed trains proved too much competition for the airline. On the rail side, there are now two high-speed rail companies (one public, Trenitalia, and one private, Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori) to choose from, and the rail infrastructure of the country is dramatically improved from the country's past.

According to Buckley's sources, tourists and Italians alike find the trains easier, cheaper, and quicker than flying. The consequences of this shift have spread to other sectors of the economy as well. "While real estate prices in Milan dipped 20.5% from 2008 to 2018, prices for offices around the high-speed stations of Rogoredo and Porta Garibaldi were up around 10%," according to Buckley.

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