Three more stations in Turin, Naples and Bologna will be completed in 2012-13, leaving just Florence Belfiore which will open in 2017, reports David Briginshaw.

THE Italian president, Mr Giorgio Napolitano, headed an impressive line-up of dignitaries at the opening of Rome Tiburtina station on November 28 reflecting the importance of the project. Guests included the new minister of economic development, infrastructure and transport, Mr Corrado Passera, the president of Lazio region, the mayor of Rome, and the CEO of Italian State Railways (FS), Mr Mauro Moretti.

The reconstruction of Rome Tiburtina is one of five projects on the completed Turin - Milan - Rome - Naples - Salerno high-speed line designed to address a particular deficiency with some of the existing major stations on Italy's most important rail corridor. While Rome Termini and Florence Santa Maria Novella stations are both located in the centre of each city they are also dead-end terminals which adds a time penalty of 10 to 15 minutes for through trains when they reverse. Rome Tiburtina and Florence Belfiore will avoid this, while still being relatively close to the city centre.

Through station

The new station at Naples Afragola will eliminate the need for trains travelling from Rome to destinations in southern Italy to reverse at Naples Central, and it is also designed to serve the northern side of the city. Nevertheless, it will be connected to the local rail network to improve its attraction to passengers by extending its reach.

The new stations in Bologna and Turin will be underground and are needed to increase capacity and provide better facilities for passengers. At Bologna the new underground platforms are located beneath the existing station, while Turin Porta Susa station is being rebuilt as part of a much bigger project to reconstruct the existing cross-city line at a lower level - the existing line formed a barrier effectively dividing Turin in two.

The €170m project to rebuild Rome Tiburtina is self-financing due to the availability of large tracts of non-operational railway land adjacent to the station which are being sold for redevelopment. The first sale of a 7300m2 plot to BNP Paribas Real Estate will cover about the half the cost of the new station.

At the heart of Tiburtina is a 300m long and 30m wide footbridge which not only connects the platforms to the station buildings but also provides a pedestrian link between the Pietralata and Nomentano districts of Rome. The station also features a series of "floating pods" which are used to provide space for catering, shops, and railway facilities.

New roads, car parks, cycle paths, shops and hotels covering a total area of 160,000m2 have been constructed, with a further 100,000m2 devoted to parks and piazzas as well as cultural, recreational and sporting activities.

Tiburtina is connected to metro Line B and has a direct rail link to Rome's main airport at Fiumicino. The 20-track station is served by 290 regional trains a day.

Work on Turin Porta Susa station is nearly complete. The first direct access to the platforms opened in September last year to coincide with the opening of a new station on the Turin light metro, and the station will become fully operational in June.

This will be followed at the end of the year by the opening of Naples Afragola. Progress has been swift as construction of the new station, which includes a four-storey building covering an area of 20,000m2, only started in April 2010. The most striking feature of Afragola, which is designed by the Iranian architect Zaha Hadid, is a 400m-long S-shaped bridge covering the platforms and connecting them to both sides of the station.

The first phase of speeding trains through the Florence area was completed on October 30 when two elements of a new 900m three-level link opened. It comprises:

• an elevated line dedicated to high-speed trains travelling from Santa Maria Novella station towards Bologna to separate them from other trains

• an intermediate level mainly dedicated to long-distance passenger and freight trains travelling from the Prato direction directly to Campo Marte station avoiding Santa Maria Novella, and

• an underground line, which is still under construction, to connect the Bologna - Florence high-speed with the new Belfiore station and the Direttissima to Rome.

Belfiore station is designed by the British architects Foster & Partners and Ove Arup as a huge open space which will make the trains stopping at the underground platforms visible from

the surface. It will become the city's principal rail interchange and will be connected to Santa Maria Novella in the historic heart of Florence by local trains and a recently-completed light rail line.

Construction of Belfiore station started in October 2010 but is not due to open until summer 2016, with full operation scheduled for November 2017, which is a pity because of all the new high-speed stations, the completion of this project will have the greatest effect on reducing journey times on the core Milan - Rome high-speed corridor.