April 13, 2016

Italian Rail Network embarks on spending spree

Written by 
  • Print
  • Email

Italy's infrastructure manager, Italian Rail Network (RFI), will receive a massive injection of additional government funds to invest in upgrading the network and increasing capacity. Maurizio Gentile, RFI's CEO, explains to David Briginshaw how the money will be spent.

THE Contract Programme between the Ministry of Infrastructure & Transport and Italian Rail Network (RFI) announced on February 11 will provide RFI with an extra €17bn for capital investment. The funds are provided through the 2015 and 2016 stability laws and the 2014 Unblock Italy Decree.

"The €17bn of new investment offers us a great opportunity to give Italy the additional new railway infrastructure it needs and improve existing lines, which will enable us to respond effectively to the mobility needs of the large metropolitan areas and urban centres," RFI's CEO Mr Maurizio Gentile told IRJ.

Around €9bn of the 2015 update of the 2012-2016 Contract Programme will be used to start work on projects designed to improve local public transport, encourage the transfer of freight to rail, and continue work on three major projects:

  • the Brescia - Padua section of the Milan - Venice high-speed line
  • the Terzo Valico dei Giovi project - a 53km new line, 37km of which is in tunnels, to improve access to the port of Genoa from Turin and Milan as part of the Rhine-Alpine TEN-T Corridor, and
  • the Brenner Base Tunnel link with Austria as part of the Scandinavia - Mediterranean TEN-T Corridor.

In all, about €5.4bn of the €9bn will be used to develop the four TEN-T European corridors crossing Italy, the other two comprising Baltic-Adriatic and Mediterranean. "The connections to the rail networks of other European countries are fundamental for development and both national and continental growth," Gentile says. "We will strengthen these rail links with new infrastructure and the latest technology. We will develop freight traffic by enhancing axleloads, loading gauge and train length, fostering modal interchange of goods through the creation of links to the main Italian ports, dry ports and logistics terminals."

RFI1The opening of the 64km €8.8bn Brenner Base Tunnel is scheduled for 2026. "This is a unique opportunity for us to facilitate faster connections between Italy, Austria, and Central and Northern Europe for both passengers and freight," Gentile says. Works are also in progress to upgrade the access lines to the Brenner from the south. "We are working to quadruple about 180km of the Fortezza - Verona line; and in Verona, the Scandinavian-Mediterranean Corridor will intersect with the Mediterranean Corridor, creating a railway system of great value," Gentile explains. "These actions will improve performance by removing the constraint of the maximum gradient, which will be reduced from the current 2.2% to 1.2%. There will also be an increase in commercial speed, thus eliminating bottlenecks through the Brenner Pass and increasing the capacity of the Scandinavian-Mediterranean Corridor. In addition, with the additional tracks, passenger traffic will be separated from freight, a key aspect to improve regularity and punctuality."

Regarding the additional €8.2bn provided by the 2016 Stability Law focusing on investments in southern Italy, Gentile says technical meetings will be held to determine its best use.
The update of the 2015 Contract Programme provides more than €3.5bn to improve urban and regional transport, with particular emphasis on eliminating bottlenecks at the points of entry to the major urban centres and important commuter lines.

"About €350m has been earmarked for the adaptation of the major urban nodes" Gentile says. "The increased capacity demands will be met through the use of ERTMS, initially ETCS Level 2 with Level 3 functions, overlapping our SCMT train speed control system and will be implemented in urban and metropolitan nodes using high-density ERTMS functions. We see no need to install CBTC, which is not interoperable and is mostly used for metros."

Regional projects include doubling single-track lines and raising speeds on lines in Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sardinia, as well as on the north-south main lines in southern Italy along the Adriatic coast from Bologna via Rimini and Bari to Lecce/Taranto, and the Tyrrhenian coast from Battipaglia south of Salerno to Reggio Calabria.

"Stations will be upgraded to improve accessibility, comfort, and public information systems, as well as all the actions we plan to promote genuine sustainable mobility, integrated with other means of public transport and bicycles," Gentile adds.

RFI also want to improve the overall reliability and availability of the rail network by carrying out work to prevent landslides, through the proper management of seismic events, the continuous monitoring of tunnels, and by eliminating level crossings.

Work is progressing to plug the few remaining gaps in Italy's high-speed network.

"The Brescia - Padua section is the last missing piece of the Milan - Venice line, which will complete the horizontal axis," Gentile explains. "In December, the Treviglio - Brescia section will begin to operate and we are collecting observations from the local authorities affected by the alignments of the last two sections: Brescia - Verona and Verona - Padua.

"The first two construction lots of the Milan - Genoa high-speed connection are underway and a resolution by the Inter-ministerial Economic Planning Committe (Cipe) authorising the initiation of the third lot was recently published. The conclusion of all the works is expected by 2021 and will be critical to connecting the port of Genoa to Central and Northern Europe."

Gentile says important projects are also underway in the south.

The €6.2bn Naples - Bari project involves a mixture of upgrading the existing line, and building new sections to achieve a line speed of 200km/h. "In October, we will deliver the work plans to the contracting firms for the Naples - Cancello and the Cancello - Frasso Telesino sections," Gentile reveals. Completion of the project will cut the Naples - Bari journey time from 3h 40min to 2 hours while Rome – Bari will be reduced by 1 hour to 3 hours.

Sicily

In Sicily, RFI has a €8.9bn project to upgrade and double sections of the Palermo - Catania - Messina line from where it leaves the Palermo - Messina main line at Fiumetorto to Messina to achieve a maximum speed of 200km/h. "In October 2015, early works - roads and the preparation of construction sites - were contracted for the Bicocca - Catenanuova and Catenanuova - Raddusa sections," Gentile says.

The work, which will begin in spring 2017, will cut the 243km trip from Palermo to Catania from 2h 42min to 1h 44min and the 95km journey from Catania to Messina from 1h 18min to 46 minutes. The line will have capacity to carry 180-200 trains per day.

The high-speed/high-capacity lines are being built to different standards from those of the high-speed network used exclusively by high-speed trains, with more gentle gradients and higher maximum axleloads. These lines will have a minimum curve radius of 5450m, a maximum gradient of 1.8%, a minimum radius for vertical curves of 20km, and a maximum axleload of 25 tonnes. There will also be numerous connections with the conventional network.

While the reconstruction of Turin Porta Susa and Rome Tiburtina stations and the provision of a new underground station in Bologna for high-speed services have been completed, the construction of Florence Belfiore and Naples Afragola high-speed stations has suffered delays. Gentile says they are critical for the separation of urban and long-distance traffic, releasing tracks for commuter traffic, to create interchanges with urban services, and to avoid through trains having to reverse at the existing terminal stations in Florence and Naples.

The construction of Florence Belfiore station has been delayed due to problems with the disposal of the excavated earth from the tunnels connecting it to the network. Gentile says the opening date will only be decided after the Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea draws up a new work schedule and the National Research Council (CNR) clears the excavated soil for disposal or reuse.

Florence Belfiore is designed by British architect Sir Norman Forster and is being built on four levels. The platforms are at the deepest level, about 22m below ground. Escalators connect the platforms to a mezzanine. Level 0 will house a passenger centre, a lounge and areas for commercial use, and level 1 will contain a shopping area and management offices.

"As for Naples Afragola, the construction sites were re-launched in March 2015, and the first phase of the work will be completed by the first quarter of 2017, thus rendering the use of the passenger station feasible," Gentile says. "The completion of the works for commercial services will be carried out in stages in the years to follow.

"Naples Afragola will become the modal interchange pole for the Rome - Naples - Salerno high-speed line and the Naples - Benevento - Bari high-capacity route, through the Naples - Cancello link. In addition, it will directly serve the vast and densely-populated Neapolitan hinterland, as well as Caserta and Nola," Gentile says.

While Italy has achieved a lot to modernise and expand the network, there is clearly still a lot to do. RFI says it will now focus its efforts on upgrading the most important conventional main lines and commuter lines, and complete the high-speed network.

 

RFI to launch tender for high-density ETCS

SPEAKING at the UIC's ERTMS conference in Brussels in March, Mr Fabio Senesi, head of control and command systems and telecommunications with RFI, told delegates that RFI plans to launch a tender in June for the first application of a high-density version of ETCS to achieve 3-minute headways on its busiest commuter lines in Rome and Milan.

The first section to be equipped will be between Rome Termini and Ciampino, followed by the line from Rome Tiburtina via Ostiense and St Peter's to Monte Mario, with a third phase planned from there to Cesano. It is also planned to install the system in Milan from Porta Garibaldi to Greco and Lambrate.

"ETCS high-density will not exactly be ETCS Level 3 with moving block as it will be fixed block but without physical block sections," Senesi explained. In other words it will be ETCS Level 2 Baseline 3 virtual block with on board train integrity detection overlapped on the national command and control system (SCMT).

Only trains equipped with ETCS Level 2 Baseline 3, the train integrity function active, and connected to the radio block centre, will be able to make use of the virtual blocks in between the conventional fixed blocks. Senesi says RFI has asked the safety authority if it will be possible for drivers of such trains to pass a red signal when the cab display says the next virtual block is free or whether a special signal will have to be installed. The objective is to have the first section in service by 2018.

RFI has been operating ETCS Level 2 Baseline 2 without a fall back on the Turin - Milan - Florence and Rome - Naples high-speed lines for 10 years. This year it will upgrade Rome - Naples to Baseline 2.3.0d and will open the Treviglio - Brescia section of the Milan - Venice high-speed line with ETCS Level 2 Baseline 2.3.0d. By 2018 Italy's original high-speed line, the Rome - Florence direttissima, will be equipped with ETCS Level 2 followed by the Brescia - Verona section by 2020. This will give RFI 1100km of lines fitted with ETCS Level 2 Baseline 2.

The first application of Baseline 3 with Levels 1 and 2 overlapped with the national signalling system was completed last year on a pilot section of the TEN-T Mediterranean Corridor. This will be followed this year by installation between Ranzo Luino and Domodossola - Iselle on the Swiss border, Iselle - Domodossola - Novara next year, Milan - Chiasso on the Swiss border by 2018 and Novara - Villa Opicina on the Slovenian border, Verona - Bolzano - Fortezza on the Austrian border, and Milan - Genoa by 2020. RFI plans to invest a total of €500m in ERTMS trackside equipment between 2016 and 2025.

Get the latest rail news

IRJ Rail Brief newsletter covers global railway news