This is a guest post by reader John Wood.
Earlier this year my wife and I set out to visit Italy, Prague and Austria. She was keen to see the work of an interior decorator who had worked in Rome and also some of the old buildings in the cities we planned to visit. My aim was to see the modern transport systems that allow people to move in and between cities.
Our journey began when we landed at Malpensa airport in Milan. One of our daughter’s friends is a young professional living and working near the centre of the city. Elena had alerted me to the modern transport plans of Milan. It is in the midst of a transport revolution brought about by an agreed SUMP (Sustainable Urban Mobility Programme) and that was why I was keen to visit; but I hope to write about the SUMP in a later post.
The Start of the Journey – the Airport to the City
This has little to do with the discussion that will follow about tolls and trains, but I will talk about this because of Auckland’s current debate about the best way to move from Auckland airport to the city and vice versa: should it be the 380 to Puhinui and then the train; the ghost light rail from the airport to the City; SkyBus; or some other alternative?
Another reason that I have chosen to talk about this is because Auckland’s Airport’s current planning, where they suggest that daily vehicle movements will increase by over 40,000 per day by 2040, is almost certainly not sustainable as Auckland moves to zero emissions and therefore a different way has to be found.
I am not going to comment on what I think are the merits of the options that Milan has chosen, but rather show what exists for a city of about 1.3 million people and let you form your view.
Malpensa airport is located 50km from the centre of Milan.
The Malpensa Express
This is the train from Malpensa Airport, Milan to Milan city:
This train is perhaps anything but express given that it makes up to 9 stops. The 50 km journey takes about 52 minutes. This does highlight that there needs to be a balance between travel time and the need to stop close to population centres. Without the latter there could be a faster service, but the risk it will be much less patronised.
It may not be immediately obvious from the photo, but one of the aspects that slows this train is the dwell times at stations, caused by negotiating relatively narrow aisles and dismounting/embarking with large bags.
From Malpensa Airport: First transfer is at 6:00 AM, and runs every 20 minutes from 6:30 AM to 10:10 PM, and every 30 minutes from 10:40 PM to 12.30 AM.
The price for a single ticket is 13 euro.
For those looking for a comprehensive dissertation about this train this is a great link.
Malpensa to Milan by Bus
Elena had suggested using the bus from the airport, seemingly the option most favoured by locals. We took the train as it gave us certainty where we had to get off. (I find generally train stations have better signage than bus stations and this is helpful when you don’t know a place.)
The travel time by bus is from 50 – 70 minutes with Service frequency: approx every 20 min during the day with the first departure at 5.05 am and the last departure at 0.10 am.
The trip costs 8 euros.
Italian Road Tolls
As there was a group of eight of us travelling together, and some of the group was older, we had chosen to travel by mini bus for much of our journey in Italy. It is most likely that even for a group of this size it would have been cheaper for us to travel everywhere by train, tram and bus.
In Italy you encounter the ‘autostrade’ the Italian motorway network, which in the main, is subject to tolls. It’s possible to avoid the toll roads, but the network has been designed so as to be the roads of choice for drivers wanting to get just about anywhere important in the country.
Since 1964 all new autostrade construction has been undertaken by private companies with the tolls set to enable them to repay capital costs and to make a profit. Today, almost all the autostrades are owned by two companies; Atlantia and ANAS and tolls are set after reference to the government.
Italy now has 3408kms of autostrade stretching from the borders with France, Switzerland and Austria down to the toe of Italy and on into Sicily.
The cost of these tolls seems to be a significant deterrent to driving. It was very noticeable that although we travelled extensively by van in the northern part of Italy, most of the autostrade was thinly populated with vehicles. It was also very noticeable that much of the traffic was trucks; anecdotally varying from a proportion of one truck to every two cars, to one to one in other areas. I will talk more of alternative forms of travel later.
From time to time posters on GA talk about using the space over Auckland’s motorways. The Autogrill is a very common addition to many autostrade.
Fares for Inter City Trains and Coaches
Train fares in Europe work in a similar fashion to purchasing domestic air fares with Air New Zealand – the sooner you buy them the cheaper they are. The price can also vary with the speed of the journey. Often the cheapest fare is not the quickest.
I have also included coach fares as a comparison.
What is immediately obvious is that for a single traveller in many cases it is cheaper to travel by bus or train than the price of the road toll.
It is also noticeable that it is as quick, or quicker to travel by train as it is by car.
What is not evident by the figures is just how comfortable it is to travel by rail, but more of that next.
Here are the Trenitalia trains:
Frecciarossa trains – Turin-Milan-Bologna-Rome-Naples-Salerno Trains reach up to 360km/h
(standard seating shown)
Frecciargento trains – Rome to Venice, Verona, Bari/Lecce, Lamezia Terme/ReggioCalabria. Trains reach up to 250km/h
Frecciabianca trains – Milan to Venice, Udine e Trieste; Genoa and Rome; down to Bari, Lecce on the traditional line. Trains reach up to 200km/h
As I said earlier we didn’t have the opportunity to travel on trains in Italy, but if the ride is as good as the trains we road from Prague to Vienna to Salzburg to Milan with OBB then it would be a great experience.
I have just included a small portion of the train timetable from Milan to Venice. Remember that Milan has a population of 1.3 million and Venice has a population of 270,000. There are over 50 services on this day.
At this time in the morning this is a frequency that any of our suburban lines would be proud of.
Questions for NZ
What might rail travel numbers between Auckland. Hamilton, Rotorua and Tauraunga look like if we priced our roads?
Obviously our narrow gauge track cannot cope with Italian style trains, but what impact would a Queensland type tilt train make to patronage?
Are our train fares priced correctly given the long length of the track assets?
The Train Stations
The timetable above shows that train travel is enormously popular, but it is also immediately obvious when you walk into a city train station. In a previous comment on GA I described the interior of Florence train station as like Britomart on steroids, such was the degree of activity in a station that serves a population of only 383,000, although there are 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.
Pictured- Florence Train Station 8:45pm, Friday night
The sceptics will say, you can’t compare NZ with Italy that has a population of 60 million. However there are learnings I believe. The combination of relatively high road tolls and reasonable coach / train fares appears to have resulted in sparsely used roads and well used trains.
NZ has adopted “user pays” for a number of aspects of our society such as parts of our health care and education systems. Is there a good argument that roads should be treated in the same way – if you want to use them you pay for them you do, and if you choose other options you don’t?
There definitely is a romance about rail travel if it is done well.