Second Class in Italian Trains

I urge Rick's fans to follow his train advice that "Italy is one country where I would consider the splurge of first class." (Florence and Tuscany 2013, page 562.) We had not read that advice before a recent second-class trip. It was horrible. Here are the details. In mid-July, we took the train from Vernazza in Cinque Terre to Ventimiglia, which is just before the French border. Based on other travelers' comments that we had seen on the Graffiti Wall, we thought second class would be fine, so we decided to try it. We also thought we had seen Rick say on one of his broadcasts that second-class train travel in Europe is fine. But in light of what he says in his Florence and Tuscany book, we obviously misunderstood, at least for Italy. The trip lasted more than seven hours. We stopped at what seemed like thirty or more towns. That was the least of it. It was extremely hot. There was no air conditioning, and only some of the windows were operable and could be opened for fresh air. None of the toilets on the train were working. There was no place on the entire train to get a drink, not even a bottle of water. At one stop, we saw track-side vending machines, and we saw people getting off the train to go to those machines. But they were not working,and people were grumbling and hitting on the machines. It was really a third-world experience. It was so bad it was almost comical. A few days earlier, we had traveled first class on the train from Venice to Florence. It was perfectly fine. The difference between first and second class is huge. Similarly, when we reached Ventimiglia the day of our second-class trip, we had to change to a French train to cross the border for the remainder of our trip to Nice. We had second-class seats on that train. They were fine--worlds better than the ones in Italy. Gary

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4188 posts

I'm not sure first class would have made that trip from Vernazza to Ventimiglia any better. The lack of air conditioning, un-openable windows, non-functioning toilets, and lack of food and drink, would all have been present in first class too. The train from Florence to Venice is quite a different animal, and is much nicer (in all classes) from the one used on the Vernazza-Ventimiglia run. Here's Ron In Rome's descriptions of Italian train classes, on the different train types:

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20301 posts

Gary, I tend to have the same view as Harold. One of the factors that probably made the situation worse is that you were travelling in peak season, which is typically hot and crowded. However, even in September or other months, I've found that train travel is not always "pleasant" in Italy. What time of day were you travelling? I've been on trains in Italy many times in conditions like you've described, sometimes "SRO" so I couldn't even sit down. Even so I still continue to travel in second class as it's usually not that bad. I always travel with at least one bottle of water and a couple of energy bars in my carry-on, so that helps on long, hot train journeys. I choose my rail journeys carefully to minimize travel times, number of changes, etc., and in some cases that can minimize the "discomfort factor". Hopefully your next trip to Italy will be better. Cheers!

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
921 posts

There are no vending machines and train service in the third world (people say developing world these days, by the way). To compare your experience to living/traveling in a developing country makes me think you have no idea what you mean by "third world experience."

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8546 posts

Sounds awful... and I personally don't take any train ride longer then 5-6 hours( my personal limit) ,, and I always take food and drink on a train.. but I can understand that people might think they don't need to.. What a shame.. thanks for posting.

Posted by Mark
Kirkland, Wa, United States
1 posts

In the last month through the hot weather: Milano-Bologna, Bologna- Milano, Bologna-Verona & return, Bologna-Ferrara & return, Bologna-Firenze, Parma & Venezia & return, Milano-Varenna & Bergamo and return...all 2nd class...all fast, cheap & on time...easy to navigate...all the older trains suffer a bit but for travel of less than 2 hours 2nd class is fine...the super fast trains all have new 2nd class cars and are really first class...for travel more than 2 1/2 hours I would consider 1st class on slower trains only as the fast trains all have newer cars in 2nd class. Overall, we were very impressed with the Italian train service and thankful that the 2nd class service made travel affordable. Choose the faster 2nd class. Use the wonderful & free Orari Trenitalia App for scheduling and choosing the cheaper, faster trains. The Italian service is more inclusive and much faster than in the UK and much more affordable, too. France & Germany have only fast trains on many of their routes now and train travel is EXPENSIVE there. Italy is the best. Stay in an apartment close to the train station and do day trips that take you right into the hear of the most worthy cities. What a treat!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12222 posts

If you were stopping at 30 towns I am sure you were on a Regional train which really is just a hard working bus with iron wheels. First class would not have been a whole lot better. Sometimes just a few bigger seats at the front of the car. Second class on IC and high speed trains is much different. We have used second class all over Italy for many years with min amount of problems or discomfort. But we try to avoid Regional trains.

Posted by Christine
Philadelphia, PA, USA
23 posts

I had almost an identical experience!! I too used the words "Sicily" and "third world," in the same sentence, possibly out loud (#uglyamericanmoment) not joking. I bought a 2nd class ticket from Catania in Sicily to Cosenza in Calabria. Long story short I only had 1/3 of a water bottle with me. The station in Catania had no open cafes (it was lunch hour) and no vending machines. The train had no place to buy water. Also like you said there were dozens of stops. It was kind of like taking a local commuter train with stops every 5 minutes or so (I live in Philadelphia) to another East Coast city like New York or D.C. After the first train I rushed to make my ferry with no time to stop at that station's bar and it only had a vending machine which didn't work for everyone Luckily I was able to get a few water bottles (after kicking the machine a few times) and a candy bar. After the ferry my 2nd train wasn't air conditioned and like you said had inadequate windows. It went whizzing through mountain tunnels with an open window and the mountain only inches away while stale tunnel air flooded the train.
Now, what I can say is that I took a 2nd class train a few days later from Cosenza to Rome and that was a totally different story. It was air conditioned and equally as modern (if not more so) than any American train. Also they had a vendor come around and sell drinks, snacks, and sandwiches. So I concluded that if you are going to a large city, the 2nd class tickets are fine but for small towns it might be better to upgrade when possible.

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
708 posts

Once you get south of Rome, Italy is very much like a third world country. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3017 posts

I took this trip (from Monterosso) in the early morning a few years ago. Fortunately I had a seat. It was obviously a commuter train with many stops and huge numbers of people getting on and off. I enjoyed seeing all the towns and didn't mind that the trip took a long time. Sometimes it is necessary to change trains in Genoa (Genova) before proceding to Ventimiglia.

Posted by Thomas
Snyder, Texas
504 posts

The only problem we found with Italian trains was that they were hot. Otherwise, they were fine. We traveled in second class. I did wonder if the air conditioning was better in first class.