THE European Commission has approved under state aid rules €687m of compensation from the Italian government to long-distance passenger rail operators for losses endured during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The compensation covers the period from July 1 2020 to April 30 2021.

The Italian government introduced various measures to counter the spread of the virus, including a mandatory seat reservation system, which cut onboard train capacity by 50%, as well as limitations on business meetings and the cancellation of several events, which severely impacted the business and leisure travel market. In addition, between December 2020 and April 2021, the government introduced a nationwide ban on inter-regional travel.

Rail passenger ridership fell by 90% between July 1 2020 and April 30 2021 compared with 2019, resulting in a significant drop in revenues while operators continued to encounter various costs. The compensation will be available as grants.

The measure follows a similar €511m scheme approved on March 10 2021 for the damage suffered between March 8 and June 30 2020.

Competition in the high-speed segment in Italy has been key to develop services with more capacity, frequency and connections, leading to lower prices and better quality for consumers,” says Ms Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president of the EC. “This €511m aid measure will enable Italy to support long-distance rail passenger operators on commercial lines in these difficult times, by compensating them for the damage suffered as a result of the emergency measures that Italy put in place during the first wave of the pandemic.”