ITALY is putting a lot of faith in rail to help reduce road congestion and pollution.

The Cura del Ferro - literally “rail cure” - initiative is the backbone of the government’s rail policy which will see a big increase in investment, particularly in urban rail schemes, expansion of the high-speed network, and a new deal for freight.

ItalyMar2018Italy has suffered from poor long-term planning for decades, particularly for local transport, which creates uncertainty and makes it difficult to implement projects. But change is afoot, as Mr Graziano Delrio, Italy’s minister of infrastructure and transport, explains. “In the last few years Italy’s centre-left governments have created the foundation for a new mobility model in our country with project planning and financial resources determined over a 15-year period rather than year by year.

“The model is based on environmental sustainability, focusing on a strong reduction in harmful emissions, social sustainability for all our citizens, and economic sustainability for investment in order to reduce the infrastructure gap compared with our European and world competitors.

“In this new vision, which we have called Connecting Italy, Cura del Ferro represents the main element of a project that includes more than 100 works from roads to dams, fully-financed for almost €100bn up to 2030.

“Cura del Ferro signifies high-speed but also modernisation and maintenance of the existing network, as well as new railway routes, and an unprecedented investment for Italy in new metro lines, urban railways, and trams to finally provide city transport based on rail, which is the only way to decongest the urban areas and cut air pollution.”

Delrio says the expansion of the high-speed rail network has “changed the lives of millions of Italians” and the network has become “the metro of Italy.” The network currently comprises part of the Turin - Venice west-east line from Turin via Milan to Brescia and a section from Padua to Venice, and a north-south corridor from Milan via Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples to Salerno. The 53km Terzo Valico project from Genoa north to Tortona, which includes 37km of tunnels, is underway, along with two projects in the south. The Naples - Bari scheme comprises a mixture of upgrading and new line construction for 200km/h operation, while in Sicily, the Palermo - Catania - Messina line is being upgraded to create a double-track electrified 200km/h railway linking the island’s three largest cities.

Delrio says that under Cura del Ferro the existing high-speed network will be extended to serve the whole country, connecting another 12 cities including along the Adriatic coast to provide quick connections throughout Italy as well as to neighbouring countries. “I believe this is an element of growth for our country,” he says.

A fixed rail link across the Strait of Messina between Reggio Calabria on the mainland and Messina in Sicily has been mooted for decades and Delrio says feasibility studies are in progress on the most effective and efficient choice in consultation with local communities.

Delrio adds that under Cura del Ferro a new freight logistics model will be introduced, “which shifts the centre of gravity from road transport to freight trains.” He says the government will invest €5bn over the next 10 years in the port system to improve accessibility and strengthen last-mile rail links to ports and airports.

A further €23bn will be invested to complete the Alpine rail crossings to Austria, Switzerland and France in order to finalise the European freight corridors to Italian ports. The objective is to enable high-capacity freight trains which meet international standards to operate not only to the rest of Europe but throughout the Italian peninsula.

Italian State Railways (FS) has started to expand its portfolio with a series of acquisitions, the largest of which was the takeover at the end of last year of Anas, the state-owned highway maintenance and construction company. “FS was already among the top Italian companies for investment and now, with the ability to offer integrated transport proposals, it can count on €108bn over 10 years,” Delrio says. As a result, this year, FS will have an investment budget of €8bn, a turnover of €11.2bn, €50bn of capital invested, and 81,000 employees.

Delrio believes that once the take-over of Anas has been consolidated, skills have been fully assessed, and resources rationalised, Italy will have a player which is increasingly able to realise quality projects for the country.

FS has also acquired South East Railway (FSE), one of several regional railways which in the past have struggled to invest sufficiently to maintain their networks. But Delrio does not foresee any further takeovers of smaller operators and points out that there is regional autonomy for local transport.

However, steps have been taken to improve safety on regional railways following the serious head-on collision between two local trains on a single-track line between Andria and Corato in the Apulia region in July 2016. Delrio says that in cooperation with the regions, safety standards on local routes will soon match those on the national network, with €700m earmarked to improve safety on local lines. “We are also bringing these networks under the control of the National Agency for Railway Safety (ANSF),” he reveals.

As far as the long-mooted privatisation of FS is concerned, Delrio says he has always considered the strengthening of FS as a central step towards the eventual quotation of part of the group on the stock exchange. “In any event, the infrastructure will remain in public hands in order to ensure investment and equal opportunities for competition,” he says.

Delrio adds that opening the rail market to competition has resulted in service improvements with “a reduction in tariffs of more than 30% in the last five years and an increase of 20 million in the number of passengers transported.”

But he says competition must now be extended to local transport which must move to a standard system of putting services out to tender. With this in mind, legislation has been introduced which will allow the government to reduce funding by up to 15% for regions which fail to put services out to tender.

“This is a cultural transition which needs time, but which aims to improve the services offered to citizens through competition criteria that increasingly focuses on quality and efficiency,” Delrio says.

There has been talk of FS taking over urban operators such as ATAC in Rome and GTT in Turin, but Delrio rejects this. “Rome and Turin are restructuring their important and complicated companies, but it is up to local administrations to decide the future of their companies, according to the new rules that we have approved, which are better suited to rewarding the quality of services rendered, including the allocation of national funds,” he explains.

He says the government has made €2bn available for metro, LRT and tram lines in metropolitan cities. “Of this, almost €500m will go to Rome and about €300m to Turin,” Delrio says, “which will also see the renewal of their bus and tram fleets, which are the oldest in Europe. This is a strong investment which our cities have been waiting years for.”

In addition, Delrio says the government has fielded €10bn for new local public transport infrastructure and another €10bn for new buses, trams, trains and ferries. “In the recent history of our country there has never been a mid to long-term vision of this kind which systematically aims at creating the conditions for more and more people to abandon private transport for their daily journeys.”

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, Delrio says Italy wants to create more liveable urban environments which are also more ecologically-friendly. “I imagine cities where you can choose to move freely by bike, perhaps taking a ride on a regional train, a tram or an electric bus, where women and children are able to enjoy the beautiful spaces we have in Italy even at night, thanks to efficient and safe local transport,” he says. “It goes to our political credibility, but above all to the future of our country.”