Rail Rage

Getting out of Rome proves considerably harder than getting into it, thanks to the quirks of Trenitalia, the state rail company. The previously efficient looking Termini station again looks simple enough to navigate. Buying a ticket is a painless process, and the platform for the Leonardo Express is clearly marked.

But our impending departure is thwarted in a way that any British rail traveller will instantly recognise. Having allowed a few hundred passengers to crowd onto the train, complete with bulky luggage, a member of staff steps aboard to inform us that we’ll have to change to another train. People who thought they’d got the advantage of a comfortable seat are now involved in mad dash to another platform, a task helped enormously by a series of obstacles to navigate – namely other passengers, trollies and cardboard boxes. If only Stuart Hall were here, it could easily be an edition of Jeux Sans Frontieres. “Ha ha ha! Look at the stupid Italians falling over! They’ve bumped into that English idiot with a big suitcase!” I miss that show, but I can’t say I ever wanted to be a contestant on it.

Our replacement train is just like the first. A really helpful design of narrow corridors and stairs to each carriage. We wait a further twenty minutes before pulling away. There’s then a misguided sense of optimism, as the information screen in the carriage informs us that we’re travelling at 71 kilometres per hour. For about fifteen minutes, until it stops at a faceless station in the Rome suburbs.

At first passengers sit patiently. But patience doesn’t last long with Italians, and before long they’re discussing the possible reason for our delay. The information screen contains no information of any use, no member of staff emerges to tell us what’s going on. There’s much huffing and puffing – which then turns into several people leaving the train completely, presumably in the vain hope of finding a taxi to take them to the airport on a Sunday lunchtime. Among those jumping ship, as it were, is a young man next to me with an enormous backpack. He doesn’t even bother with stairs and bridges, instead opting to use the platform and the tracks as a parkour circuit.

Eventually, slowly and painfully, the train snakes its way through the remaining suburbs of Rome. Among the ageing apartment blocks are signs of real poverty, with a line of mattresses and beds alongside the track, complete with evidence that someone probably slept here last night.

It’s been a hot and sweaty journey. The Leonardo Express has failed to live up to its name, with a trip which should have taken 35 minutes adding up to the best part of two hours. It’s a disappointing way to depart a city I’ve fallen instantly in love with, and all that remains is the dreary motions of going through airport security. I’ll be ready for a beer in Budapest.

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