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.
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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.
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It would seem that this change is not in favor of the customer. Also, when recently buying a regional ticket from a machine at a station, the machine didn’t give me a 4-hour window from the time I was buying the ticket. The choice was a ticket that began at noon or one that began at 4 pm. And to confuse the matter even more, the little ticket that came out of the machine stated, “This ticket must be validated before departure by the appropriate validators.”
A regional ticket I bought from a ticket window just last week also stated that it must be validated. The 4 hours began from when I stamped the ticket.
Oh, my heavens… Thanks for the info, Karen. Maybe it’s an interim/transitional stage, having to validate it? I think this is one more reason for my “when in doubt, validate” MO.
Grazie mille for the update. Does this mean that the high speed Freccia train tickets still need to be validated?
I mention in the article that there’s no change to Frecce tickets – but because they already had to have reservations, they didn’t need to be validated before. So now, it appears, no tickets need to be validated.
I purchased a couple of Regionale tickets in advance and will use them as E-tickets on my phone. The website noted that the tickets can be used for any trip up to 4 hours after the indicated time. My question is – can the ticket be used shortly before the time. For example, if I purchased a ticket for a 5:30 train on Mar 1, could I use it on the 4:30 train on Mar 1 if we finished early that day? If not, then it seems like it would always be wise to buy the ticket for a time slightly earlier than you expect to travel, thus leaving an hour before and 3 hours after your expected travel time.
Oh, that’s an interesting question, Harley – I don’t know the answer to that. I think your best bet for an answer is to see a ticket agent in Italy and find out what they say. I realize you’ve already bought your tickets for this trip, but it could be good info for the future. (And please let me know how they respond!) I’ll see if I can track down a reply, too.
Hi Harley, Jessica asked for feedback from a few of us living in Italy right now. I think that if you bought it online, it’s considered pre-validated, and it would be wise to pick the hour that you’re going to travel so if I were in your situation I’d indeed get a ticket valid also for the previous and later trains (ie imagine you might catch the hour before). Unless you’re visiting anywhere, or relying on a bus to get to the station, in which case skip it and have another coffee or gelato 🙂
If you’re buying regional tickets ON SITE, here is a tip. The Machines spit out the hour of the specific train you choose. If you go to the tabacco store or window in the station, you can get a regional ticket for that DAY but that doesn’t have the hour specified. Then you can use it any time that day and it’s valid 4 hours from when you stamp it. Unfortunately they are no longer good the next day. (You can also go to the station to buy the day-long ticket for another day, not just “today”).
Thanks Alexandra – great information!
Your can only use the tickets within 4 hours of the stamped time – beginning at that time (not earlier) whether that be an e-ticket or an actual ticket from the station.
I don’t know if this is technically starting a new thread, but it relates to Harley’s question about taking an earlier train, one befoe the 4 hour window.
If I buy a ticket online, say Lucca-Rome, the first leg is on a regional train and the second on a high speed train. All the web sites I have found offer up tickets with a minimum amount of time to change trains (15-18 minutes). I would like a longer time in case the regional train is late or, since I’m 68, in case I just need more time to lug bags from track to track. Is there a way to get Italiarail, trenitalia or raileurope to offer choices with a little more time between trains?
That’s an interesting question, Steve. It used to be those non-specific tickets were valid at any time on that route, so you could just take whatever the next train was that you wanted to. And of course if you bought your tickets at the counter in Italy, you could make or request changes in the departure times easily. I just looked at the ItaliaRail site and I can’t see a way to do that, though I suspect if you contacted their customer support folks they’d be able to tailor an itinerary for you – they’re incredibly helpful.
On the Trenitalia website you can lengthen the time between trains by doing two separate searches. In your example Lucca-Rome do searches for: Lucca-Florence (on a Regional train) and Florence-Rome (Freccie trains). This way you’ll have more choices. Booking from two searches is not automatically more expensive, it can be the same or cheaper. The ticket price(s) depend on the combination of trains, class of travel, time of day and time of purchase during the 120 day sales window.
I have purchased a Ticket from Monrtreux (Switzerland) to Milan (Italy). The train passes through Brig (Switzerland) in 1 hour.
Is it possible to Board Train from Brig instead of Montreux with the same Ticket? Or do I need to change the Ticket?
I’m afraid I don’t know much about Swiss train travel!