GIANCARLO Cimoli, who assumed the chief executive’s mantle at Italian State Railways after the arrest of Antonio Lorenzo Necci last September, is getting to grips with the complex world of railway politics. Necci had set up an array of subsidiary companies that dabbled in all kinds of peripheral activities, but Transport Minister Claudio Burlando has ruled that diversification must stop. Cimoli and his financial strategist Fulvio Conti, both previously at the top of the Edison industrial empire, have so far refrained from rushing ahead with headline investment projects.

Their caution is perhaps dictated by what is happening to the Roma - Napoli high speed line. Last year Ercole Incalza, head of the FS high speed rail subsidiary TAV, admitted that the project was behind schedule by up to nine months, but Cimoli has since learnt that the April 8 1999 target completion date may be missed by two years. Compared with the 22 years needed to complete the Roma - Firenze direttissima, that would be pretty good going.

Much of the delay can be blamed on the problems of threading the alignment through the urban tangles of Roma and Napoli, where much time has been lost haggling with local authorities. Agreement has now been reached at both ends, although the trade-off is inevitably a higher price. General contractor Iricav has told TAV that it believes the lost time can be recouped, but this too will entail splashing a few more lire around. The figure mentioned is an extra 1000bn lire on top of the contracted price of 5508bn lire.

Under the 1996 finance bill, Cimoli has 7800bn available for capital investment, but before committing it, he has ordered a fresh three-year plan to be drawn up. Be that as it may, Italferr-SisTAV alone is expected to place contracts worth 3000bn lire during 1997. q