As the oft-quoted (and yet totally untrue) saying goes, “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time.” Italians still say this, especially older generations pining for what they think is a lost sense of order, but the truth is that Italian trains are more reliable these days than ever. Sure, there are delays and strikes (I’ll talk about the latter in another article), but generally speaking the Italian train schedule is pretty reliable.
So long as you know how to read it, that is.
In another article on this site, I talk about how to use the Trenitalia website, and that’s the first place to look when you’re researching train schedules. There’s a good English version, you can look up different days and routes in one place, and you’ll even get price information.
But even if you’re cleverly looking up train schedules before you leave home so you know how long it takes to get around, and roughly when to expect to get to train stations on travel days, it’s always a good idea to double-check the schedule when you actually arrive in Italy. In some cases, that means deciphering the big printed paper schedule hanging in every train station – and there’s no English translation button for that.
Look around on the walls of an Italian train station and you’ll see two big posters with tiny writing, usually one white and one yellow. Sometimes they’re in glass-enclosed bulletin boards. This is a close-up of one side of a schedule, so you can see what they typically look like:
As is the case with the Trenitalia site, times are listed in the 24-hour clock format down the left-hand side. The different colors do mean different things, as do all the symbols, but don’t get too bogged down in decoding the entire poster. The main things you want to look for are:
Be sure you’re looking at the section of the schedule marked “ARRIVI” (arrivals) rather than “PARTENZE” (departures).
What’s not listed on these printed schedules is the track number from which your train will depart. Trains on regular routes typically use the same tracks every time, so locals may have a sense of which track serves which destination, but they’re not listed on the printed schedule so they can be changed more easily if necessary. You’ll find track numbers shown on digital displays in many stations, or – if you’re lucky – on one of those fabulous old-timey train boards that clacks loudly every time the letters and numbers have to change… There’s something about that noise that makes a person dream of traveling, no?
But I digress. Where were we? Ah, yes. Train track numbers.
The word for track is “BINARIO,” which you’ll often see abbreviated as simply “BIN,” so once you know the train number you’re looking for you can look for the BIN associated with that train.
Of course, if you have the time and there’s a friendly ticket agent available, you can always find out all of this information by asking questions.
If you’re taking an AV or Italo train, the online schedules are pretty reliable. If you’re taking one of the slower trains, the best places to look for the most current schedule are monitors or big boards in the train stations – these are constantly updated with arrival and departure times. The printed schedules are not.