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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Autumnal Italy

So, what can you see from a high speed (very high speed) train in Italy in late October? It really depends on the weather doesn’t it. Think maybe of a late heat haze from vehicles on a parallel motorway and savour the smugness as you flash past. Or think of crisp autumn sunshine glinting off pantile roofs and sun-baked vineyards. Think of blue mountains in the background hardly moving against a silvery blue sky.

Think all you like pal! If it’s foggy, you won’t see a thing! And fog – or at least heavy mist – shrouded the line between Rome and Milan on a press trip put on especially for the Rail Engineer magazine and, it has to be said, quite a few others from the rest of Europe.

Sleek and silent

Bombardier’s press team had very generously invited us to sample the V300 Zefiro train – in their words, the world’s latest very high speed train. It’s an impressive machine with a superbly dominant nose, the end-throw of which would finish off plenty of lineside furniture in the UK. It is sleek and silent. It seemed to have a cavernous capacity for people and, above all, luggage.

European travellers don’t do luggage by halves. There were families with several trolleys, each of which was laden above head height. And yet it all vanished into the carriages with much of it landing up in the overhead luggage racks – remember them?

It must be said, of course, that much of the scope for swallowing up people and luggage is down to a structure gauge far more generous than we are used to.

Having had the temptation of just sitting back and staring at the Italian countryside effectively removed by the mist, there was time to look at the detail of this train. Much of it, of course, is hidden out of sight. We could see the obvious flexibility options when it comes down to seating arrangements, how a carriage can be converted to a variety of ‘classes’ – although ‘class’ doesn’t seem to be the favoured word these days. It’s service level.

We can feel how it rides. In short, it is very smooth and quiet. The three hour journey was a pleasant experience.


But what is out of sight, apart from the scenery? For a start, the Zefiro achieves complete interoperability. It is compatible with different power supplies, signalling and train control systems. This allows cross-border operation on all AC and DC-powered lines.

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In September 2010, the Italian railway operator Trenitalia ordered fifty V300 Zefiro trainsets (400 carriages). The V300 Zefiro is the first train in Europe based on the Zefiro high speed train platform. This is used already in China as the Zefiro 250.

Developed jointly with a strategic partner, the V300 Zefiro meets all the latest TSI (Technical Specifications for Interoperability) requirements of most European countries.

Reaching a commercial speed of up to 360 kilometres per hour (224 mph), the V300 Zefiro is also one of Europe’s fastest trains. It comes in eight-car and 16-car configurations. The eight-car train seats up to 600 passengers and has a bistro or restaurant. The 16-car train seats up to 1,200 passengers and includes dining facilities.


Behind all the smoothness lies a considerable amount of technical testing. But how can a train be tested when there are no test tracks long enough to cater for trains travelling at sustained high speed?

It was explained to us that once the basic behaviour of, say, bogies is understood, it is possible to both model their performance and to test them on specialist testing rigs. The industry is mature enough to have a sound understanding of components up to threshold speeds and can confidently predict the effect of a slight increase. These days, with careful modelling, there are few surprises. It’s only when quantum leaps are attempted that unexpected consequences can happen.

More haste…

Milan, and especially Milan airport, has a reputation for being foggy. And so, with this in mind, many of the press party switched from the comfort of their (very) high speed train to the more sedate trundle of the suburban train heading off to the airport. This involved a confused wander around the nearby ticket machines and a retracing of steps to the departure platforms.

It’s not just fog that concealed the Italian countryside, it’s the haste of journalists that concealed the architectural splendour of Milan Station. This may not be to everyone’s taste given its pedigree, but it would have been worth the odd few minutes to linger before rushing homeward. But speed is always of the essence.

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