Delrio told a hearing of the Senate Public Works Committee on January 13 that plans to complete the privatisation this year may be unrealistic and emphasised the need to maximise the value of the transaction to the state. "We must take all the time that is needed, even though we made a commitment to Europe to do it by 2016," he says."The listing of this large industrial group must generate the capital that is needed to develop a sector that has huge potential."

Delrio says the government will not make a final decision on the structure of the sale until the board of FS, which has only been in place since November 27, completes a new business plan. He also stressed that infrastructure manager Italian Rail Network (RFI) should remain in public ownership in order to maintain its focus on providing public services and ensuring the highest levels of safety.

Delrio has previously argued that RFI should be split from the holding in order to ensure all operators have equal access rights to the network. However, FS CEO Mr Renato Mazzoncini offered the committee an opposing view, warning unbundling could be detrimental to the future of Italy's railways.

"RFI is dedicated to the development and maintenance of the network and it is at the heart of FS, which is why it should remain integrated," he says. "The network owned by by RFI is worth around €26bn but has no income as access charges do not cover the costs of maintenance, because they are deliberately kept low to avoid increasing fares. Nobody is going to buy something that makes nothing, so the network must remain in public ownership."