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Rail Travelís Future: Riding through Italy

APTA Director of Publications

In the opening chapters of her best-selling book, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes the pleasures of food, wine and nature on a journey through Italy.  But she missed one important pleasure; had she traveled by high-speed rail, she might have added the verb “Ride” to her title.

In a country known for producing works that appeal to all of the senses dating back to the Renaissance, railcar manufacturer Alstom Transport has set a new standard—in speed, convenience and luxury.

On a recent summer press sojourn from Milan to Bologna, I had the ­pleasure of riding through the 15th-century Lombardy countryside on the newest 21st-century train technology—the Alstom AGV (Automotrice Grande Vitesse) .italo.

From sipping my first cappuccino in a plush leather seat (manufactured by the same company that supplies Ferrari) to the whisper-smooth 40-minute trip at 300 k/ph (186 mph), I knew I was ­experiencing the future of public transit.

The first AGV .italo trains began commercial service in 2012. Today they offer 50 connections among such ­popular destinations as Rome, ­Florence, Bologna, Padova, Venice, Ancona, Milan, Turin, Naples and Salerno. Thanks to AGV, Italy’s major population centers are no more than three hours apart.

Traveling at 300 k/ph, safety is ­integral to AGV’s basic design. Take the articulated trainset architecture: Each car shares a bogie (or chassis) with the adjacent car, creating a semi-rigid link between coaches. In addition to providing less noise and vibration, this innovative design limits the risk of derailments. In the event an accident does occur, the train is devised to stay intact and not create a pile-up.

The AGV was conceived to lower operating costs by saving energy and reducing the need for maintenance. Its aerodynamic design and low mass allow the train to use 20 to 30 percent less fuel than other trains and to generate 70 times less CO2 emissions than an airliner, making for an exceptional, environmentally-friendly method of travel.

The AGV trains are assembled in Alstom’s Savigliano (Italy) and La Rochelle (France) facilities. This may explain why la dolce vita (the sweet life) or la joie de la vie (the joy of life) of rail travel was not an afterthought. Passenger amenities include free Wi-Fi, intelligently-placed power sockets, at-seat catering service and vending machines, private lounges, leather-covered walls for comfort and privacy and one car dedicated to persons with reduced mobility.

In 2014, more than 4.5 million passengers traveled on AGV .italo trains, definitive proof of their popularity. Clearly, taking the AGV .italo isn’t just about getting from one place to another more efficiently; rather, it’s a moveable feast of experiences that one wants to enjoy again and again.

It’s impossible to ride the Alstom AGV .italo and not feel like Angelina Jolie in The Tourist or Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. For an American like me, it was an extraordinary glimpse of how public transportation can marry old-world style with new-world technology. So, move over Prada bag, Armani tux, Hermes perfume, the Alstom AGV .italo is Italy’s and France’s newest influential export, but one that everyone can appreciate.




 High-speed travel at 300 k/ph.

 Plush leather seats provide a luxurious experience for passengers.

 The Alstom AGV .italo departs the station.

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