Friday, December 7

Rome's Airport Express-a Feat fit for a Conqueror

Okay. I admit it, I’m one of the few people in Italy who thinks the trains are actually pretty swell. My love affair obviously peaking after a bout in the USA, in which they think a monorail circling the mall is mass transit.

But, I do get a bit, shall we say, sensitive to the train situation in Italy when I take, as I am wont to do, a train from Italy to Switzerland. Though sharing a long border, the vastness separating their idea of train travel or more specifically, arrivals & departures, is immense. Having just rushed to and from the airport (arriving in Italy on Black Friday—not the shopping day after Thanksgiving -- but the day that the trains, taxis and buses were all on strike, but that’s another story).

Basically, my beef is with the lack of ramps or escalators or elevators to take you up to the train tracks with all your luggage in tow. Those pictures of migrants moving their belongings and 9 kids and grandma from South to North are so incredible to me; I view those early travelers as true heroes; the descendents of those great Roman legions of yore. Crossing frontiers with all that baggage and none of the slaves to ease the burden.
Obviously, they all settled in Switzerland, because when they got there, they made absolutely sure that ramps and modern technology when it arrived, was going to be put to good use.

People love to recite the claim about Hannibal's crossing of the Alps to conquer Italy. That’s because he probably had ramps and pulleys and even luggage with wheels to help him over from that side in! Come to think of it, no one ever mentions if he ever got back over. He probably took one look at the innumerable staircases he'd have to haul his booty up, and went into early retirement on the beaches of Viareggio.
image from
But, let’s not pick on the poor Italians. After all, here at Rome’s Ostiense station, Platform 13 (the Airport Express) was outfitted with an escalator by an obviously seasoned traveler.  Four months later (in 1990), they changed the Airport Express to leave from Platform 12.

Decades on, and with the advent of modern technology, a ray of hope was instilled into the faint hearts of fatigued travelers: In a rare moment of lucidity, they started a major renovation program and began installing elevators up to each of the platforms. In a country with over half the population over the age of 60, well, I thought that surely, someone with true social commitment was at the helm. I began to have visions of Shanghri-la.

As I approached my track, heart beating fast, my pulse quickening with each passing step…finally, finally, going to catch a train without feeling like I had just lost the Iron Man contest. One elevator, now two, now three, now four… then seven…Right up to Platform 11.

I’ve said it before, that Italians love conspiracy theories, and now so do I. I believe that somewhere, there is a highly disgruntled employee, who has long desired to travel, to ride the wings of love, so to speak, and go to distant lands far and wide. And just can’t. And so, in an effort to sort of get back at the proletariat, well, he placed an order for the elevators to simply stop one platform too soon. And, has since spent his time ignoring all missives from above to have the oncoming train simply change tracks.

It may seem a long shot, but I simply cannot offer you any other explanation.


Anonymous said...

Too funny and perfectly captured!
I used to take the FS train from Rome to Lugano (standing, because they ALWAYS oversold the train). On the drive up (when I could), there was an actual black painted line in the tunnel through the Alps where the actual border is, on the south side the tunnel was filthy and all the lights were out or broken. On the north side, well, you know the Swiss - You could eat off of it! That was eons ago, don't know if its still the same (I'm sure the Swiss side is, the Italian side is probably just that many years dirtier!).
I will be reading...Love your sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

you'll have to switch train stations. at trastevere there are elevators on both tracks 5 and 6 (the ones that lead and come back from fco)AND to boot, they usually work! i have noticed that it is usually the foreigners who make use of them... wonder why?

Irreverent Italy said...

Actually, I've discovered the little mini-bus which takes you to/from the airport, albeit with other people, and right to 'Departures'. All in all, it runs you about the same price, but you save at least 25 mins. not having to walk from the airport train station.
Not to mention the fact that, having to reserve, I may just be on time for once!

Irreverent Italy said...

There are a few updates at Roma Ostiense Station & other places to this post:

- Italo Treno sued the govt to allow people to waltz straight onto the train w/o having to go thru the hassles of the up & down staircases...And Won.
- They are as of this writing (Sept 2014) finally installing that last missing elevator. That's great. Because for 8 years running, the escalators going up & down to the track hallway are yet to be running at the same time - or at all (depending on the day)
- At the fancy new Tiburtina Station, there are escalators - elevators - the works!