The 150km Bari - Lecce line was doubled in 2006 but rail links to northern Italy are poor, even though the region is inundated by holidaymakers during the summer months.

The agreement to launch the service was signed in Rome on October 14 in the presence of Emiliano, Italy's minister of infrastructure and transport Mr Graziano del Rio, and Italian State Railways (FS) CEO Mr Michele Elia. The Italian government will cover operating costs as part of the national contract for public-service-obligation long-distance services.

Services are expected to start before next summer, following trials with an ETR 500 Frecciarossa set on the Bari - Lecce line.

The extension of Frecciarossa services to Lecce confirms the intentions of the Italian government and FS to improve rail links to southeastern Italy, which for many years has suffered from a lack of investment in infrastructure. Key projects include upgrading of the Adriatic corridor and preliminary works for the Naples - Bari high-speed line.