As I mentioned recently, there are some train-related stories that never go away. And sometimes you’ll be waiting for a train at the platform and something that looks like it might have been introduced around the time of Italian unification pulls up. What I’m trying to say is that it can feel like nothing really changes with the Italian rail system.
But that’s not reality.
This latest change was brought to my attention by my pal Rebecca, and it’s kind of a big deal if you take regional trains in Italy.
Get your tickets before you leave home from ItaliaRail, a US-based company that partners with Trenitalia to offer real-time connectivity to the Italian rail reservation system. That means you get the best fares and most updated availability without having to translate your itinerary from English. Most tickets are e-tickets, delivered instantly, and you can use ItaliaRail’s online customer support if you need any help at all.
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For as long as I’ve been traveling in Italy, tickets and reservations for regional trains were treated as wholly separate things. Every train required a ticket, but not every train required a reservation. So travelers could buy a ticket without forking over the several extra euro for a reservation – sure, they’d take their chances that the train would be crowded so that they’d need to stand, but that’s fine.
This system also allowed travelers who frequently made the same journey to buy a bunch of tickets at once – in bulk, basically – so they didn’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket every single time they made that trip. By validating a ticket before boarding a train, they’d give that ticket a date stamp that made it good for that specific day of travel.
Easy peasy, right?
Well, apparently Trenitalia thought this was no longer working the way they wanted it to. So, they made some changes.
As of August 2016, all regional Trenitalia train tickets now automatically come with a specific date and a four-hour timeframe within which you can travel.
You can still purchase those same regional tickets in advance, but you’ll have to choose a travel date when you do (online or otherwise). The window of time within which your ticket is valid is four hours, though the example on the Trenitalia website says, “a traveller who chooses a journey from Pavia to Milan on train R20266 departing from Pavia at 12.51 can leave from 12.51 until 15.51 on the same day” – which sounds more like a three-hour window to me…
At any rate…
Tickets purchased online will have a date and a timeframe on them already, so once you print them out you don’t need to validate them at the station before you board your train. Tickets purchased at the station, however, either at a ticket window or from the machines, seem to only have the date on them – but no time. Those tickets still have to be validated, which starts the four-hour validity window.
Clear as mud, eh?
Personally, I like the satisfying kah-thunk of sticking a paper ticket in those bright orange (or, now, slick green) machines as my final act before climbing onto a train. It feels official. So, I say this – when in doubt, validate! It can’t hurt, even if your ticket doesn’t need it. Plus, did I mention the satisfying kah-thunk?
This change has to do with regional trains only, so if you mostly take the high-speed Frecce trains you won’t need to worry about any changes. Just keep it in mind in case you decide to take a spur-of-the-moment day trip to Lucca from Florence, which would be sort of a waste of money on your Italy Rail Pass, so you figure you’ll just pay for those tickets. That’s when you’ll need to know about this new system.
My ITALY EXPLAINED: ITALIAN TRAINS book has been updated to include this new information! Buy your copy today, or – if you already own it (thank you!) – download the updated version to your Kindle.