Bullet Through The Backbone Of Italy

Ouch!, sorry for that title, none of the other cheesy alternatives were much better.

Day 13, and after a morning on the vaporettos our day on the rails starts at 13:57.  The journey begins rather appropriately, as the previous day ended,  by crossing a bridge. But not just any old bridge, this being Venice, but the 2.4 mile long Venice Railway Bridge. Opened in 1846, it was the longest water spanning railway bridge in Europe for 150 years.

Once on the mainland we head west to Padova for our first stop along a line that could have been built by the Romans themselves it is so straight. We then head south through Rovigo and Ferrara to our second stop at Bologna, still on conventional but largely straight track. At this point we use the new  Bologna-Florence high-speed railway, opened in 2009. It consists of 9 tunnels, the longest of which is the Vaglia at 10 miles, and which between them make up  98% of it’s 78.5 km route under the Tuscan Apennines.

In Florence the train turns round at Santa Maria Novella station, and on it’s way out we get a brief glimpse of the famous city’s skyline as we pass the Fortezza da Basso. We  cross the River Arno upstream and start the high speed link to Rome known as the “Ferrovia Direttissima Firenze-Roma” (most direct Florence Rome railway). It includes yet more tunnels and a series of impressive viaducts, first over the Arno River which it crosses several times on it’s way south out of Florence, and then later over the Tiber and it’s tributaries. In particular the 5.3 km long Paglia river viaduct, the longest in Europe according to wiki.  I can find no corroboration of that statement, though I did find it on both streetview and OSM, and it is very long.

A mere 3 hours and 43 minutes from leaving one of history’s most fascinating cities  in Venice, we arrive at Rome, perhaps the only place that could survive the comparison, at 17:40. Along the way we will have travelled over 500km on some of the most modern trains and railway tracks on the continent. We have 5 hours in the Eternal City before catching our night train, the 23:04  Inter City Night sleeper to Milan, arriving at five to seven the following morning.

Do you wanna go faster ?

Our train for the afternoon will be an ETR 600 “New Pendolino”, yet another of the state of the art trains being produced by the French engineering company Alstom, this one in their Italian factories in Piedmont and Milan. It is, as it’s name suggests, a tilting train, and is able to travel at 250 km/h.

A “New Pendolino” awaiting take off for Rome from Santa Lucia station, Venice

But it’s getting faster all the time. The AGV.italo  (Automotrice à Grande Vitesse or Very High Speed Train) is being delivered to Italy this year and has already entered service From Milan to Napoli, and is due to be running out of Venice by the time we arrive. It is the latest descendant of the TGV’s produced by Alstom and has a top operating speed of 360 km/h (yes folks, 225 miles per hour).

The world speed record for a train is actually a truly astonishing 574.8 km/h, set by another of Alstom’s trains, the  V150 from which the AGV inherits much of it’s technology.  Wiki refers to it as the “world land speed record”, so we can only presume that Alstom are hard at work trying to get these things to actually fly, and at that speed they surely cant be that far off. But 360 km/h is the top operating speed of any commercially produced train to date.

A Few Notes On Bridges

The Tay Bridge in Scotland, originally opened in 1878 over 30 years after the Venice Railway Bridge, collapsed after only a year. It was then re-built and the current bridge, still in use, opened after another 10 years. It spans, admittedly in impressive style,  just over 2 miles of the River Tay, even following it’s arced path.  It’s extra length listed on wikipedia, taking it to 2.87 miles, is due to the ramping it undergoes along a stone viaduct on the north bank on the approaches to Dundee station. You can get a decent sized ship under The Tay Bridge. You’d be lucky to get a canoe under the Venice. But a bridge is a bridge, and The Venice covers more water than The Tay.

In deference to the Tay after my scurrilous jiggery-pokery with the facts to deny it’s place as the longest railway bridge at least in Europe (see below) till the end of the 20th Century, here are a few cultural additions for the rail lover in you

Even though the Venice bridge was completed and opened in 1846, making it one of the earliest substantial railway constructions in the whole of continental Europe, Santa Lucia  station itself wasn’t built for another 15 years, following the demolition of the convent who’s name it bears. The Venice bridge held it’s title for over a hundred and fifty years, until the Danes built the Storebæltsforbindelsen and then the Øresund at the end of the 20th Century, both of which we travelled on during the previous week.

The longest water spanning railway bridge in the world is the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain north of New Orleans, built in 1884. The Chinese have since totally redefined what a long bridge means with a series of incredible bridges built over the last decade, one of them over 100 miles long!. The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge covers more water than the New Orleans bridge, but does it in sections. The U.S. still hold the title for longest railway bridge over a continuous stretch of water.


One thought on “Bullet Through The Backbone Of Italy

  1. Pingback: Disorient Express, Fifth Leg: Venice to Paris

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