TRACK and overhead line equipment is already complete on much of the high speed line between Milano and Bologna. The first section is due to open next year, adding a key route to Italy's north-south high-speed/high-capacity corridor.

According to Renato Casale, RFI's Financial Director, the AV/AC network offers the opportunity 'to generate money and ensure mobility' for the Italian population, making it a 'very strategic' part of RFI's investment programme.

When originally conceived in the 1990s, the AV/AC network was to be funded partly by the private sector, with the state contributing 40% of the cost. In 2003 a publicly-owned company (Ispa) was established to provide funding to what is now RFI. This will be partly paid back by track access charges that RFI levies on Trenitalia, and partly by the state through the Cassa Depositi & Prestiti, a bank that has until now been used to fund projects for local government. However, Casale says that it is not yet clear how this proposal will develop, and it is in any case dependent on the make-up of the government which takes office following the closely-contested elections on April 9 and 10.

Also hinging on the outcome of the election is the project to construct a 3·6 km road and rail bridge over the Straits of Messina, plus 20·3 km of access roads. RFI has a 15% stake in the company set up to build the bridge, and is also committed to fund the connecting lines from its present network. It will be the infrastructure manager for the new line across the bridge. Target date for completing the €4·6bn project is 2013, but the rail connections will not be finished until 2020, says Casale. Should the government change, however, there could be further delay, as the opposition has indicated the project 'is not among their priorities'.

Whether or not the Straits of Messina scheme goes ahead, RFI is already committed to providing major improvements south of Napoli. The new Monte del Vesuvio line is already well advanced, and this will extend the AV/AC network to Salerno in September 2007.

Upgrading of the Battipaglia - Reggio Calabria line is on track for completion in 2010, with major improvements planned from Salerno to Battipaglia by 2015.

In Sicily, doubling of the Messina - Palermo line is planned for completion in 2011. The Interministerial Economic Programming Committee last year approved proposals to upgrade the line from Messina to Catania; the section of the route from Giampilieri to Fiumefreddo is still single track. This work should be finished by 2015.

Direttissima upgrade

The 254 km Roma - Firenze direttissima completed in 1992 was electrified using the standard Italian system of 3 kV DC. It forms a key link in the AV/AC network, and plans were put forward to convert the power supply to 25 kV 50Hz to match the rest of the high-speed network.

Michele Elia, RFI's Technical Director, says that no date has been set for this conversion, but on the other hand he confirms that work has begun to install ERTMS on the route.

Elia says that speed on the Roma - Firenze direttissima will remain at the present limit of 250 km/h. An increase to 300 km/h is ruled out because the distance between track centres is only 4·5m compared with 5m on the rest of the AV/AC network.

Through stations

Complementing construction of the new high speed lines are several projects to build cross-city routes with new stations. This will allow AV services to avoid time-consuming reversals at Roma Termini and Firenze Santa Maria Novella, for example.

In Roma, a new €160m station for high speed services is taking shape at Tiburtina for completion in 2008 to a design by Paolo Desideri.

A long-planned 7 km tunnel under Firenze will be completed by 2010, including a new station at Belfiore. The €300m station building is being designed by Norman Foster and Ove Arup.

In Torino, Porta Susa will become the AV station, with a €50m scheme to transform the present station by 2008. In Napoli, Afragola will become the gateway station for AV services in 2008. And in Bologna the construction of a new underground AV station costing €300m began in May 2005 for completion in 2009.

  • CAPTION: Construction work is well advanced on the first section of the Milano - Bologna AV/AC line, which is scheduled to open next year

Table I. RFI's AV line investment programme

Route Completion Length Cost date km i bn

Roma - Firenze 1992 254·0 n/a

Roma - Napoli 2005 204·6 5·2

Torino - Novara 2006 85·0

Novara - Milano 2009 40·0 } 7·0

Milano - Bologna 2007 182·0 6·5

Bologna - Firenze 2008 78·5 5·2

Milano - Verona 2012 136·8 4·7

Verona - Padova 2012 80·4 2·6

Milano - Genova 2013 114·1 4·7

Napoli - Salerno 2007 51·5 0·3

Total 36·2