Italy’s freight railway company Mercitalia Rail has unveiled the country’s first-of-its-kind high-speed freight train that connects Bologna with the Maddaloni-Marcianise terminal near Naples. The freight train is expected to cover the distance of 370 miles in three hours and twenty minutes, at an average speed of around 110 mph.
“The service is designed to transport time-sensitive products, in short and defined times, for customers such as express couriers, logistics operators, producers, distributors, and real estate developers, and can be tailor-made,” said Italian State Railways (FS) in a statement.
Though Italy is pockmarked with several historically and culturally significant cities across its length, the country could be segmented into two starkly contrasting economies - the industrial north and an economically lagging south. This difference has only escalated since the 2008 depression, with the South's economy shrinking twice as fast as the north between 2008-13.
Introducing transportation corridors and enabling faster connectivity through rail could prove to be advantageous to propping up the economy down south, while increasing reach of the north. Named ETR 500, the Mercitalia fast train holds together 12 cars, which in total would be able to accommodate loads equivalent to 18 semi-trailer trucks or two Boeing 747 cargo planes. The cargo is loaded in roll on/off wagons resembling baskets on wheels, which the rail company believes would help to expedite loading and unloading operations.
“With the new Mercitalia Fast service we will use the high speed/high capacity network for freight transport,” said Marco Gosso, CEO of Mercitalia Logistics. “Today we are the only railway company that can guarantee this business. We plan to extend the offer to other terminals in main Italian cities reached by the high-speed network: Turin, Novara, Milan, Brescia, Verona, Padua, Rome, and Bari.”
At the current stretch the train is operating in, the FS has explained that it would shave off an astounding 80% of carbon emissions associated with hauling equivalent amount of cargo through trucks plying between Bologna and Naples. The service will also reduce the traffic burden on Autostrada A1, a main Italian motorway connecting the two cities, by taking out 9,000 tractor-trailers off the highway every year.
ETR 500 started its operations last month plying between the two cities every day from Monday to Friday. "With the launch of the new Mercitalia service, the transport of goods enters the third millennium, as we implement a paradigm shift. We make the movement of goods in our country fast, remarkably safe and environmentally friendly. These are the concrete actions of a Government that strongly emphasizes intermodality in transport," said Minister of Labour and Economic Development, Luigi Di Maio, while attending the opening ceremony at the Mercitalia Terminal in Maddaloni-Marcianise.
"We are taking the first step of a broad and defined project that aims to make Italian high-speed freight transport a cutting-edge model in the European context. It is an important step for the South, which must increasingly be central to trans-European routes and which will have important employment effects."
Founded in January 2016, Mercitalia is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Italian state railway, when it merged its Trenitalia operations with logistics and freight operations. Mercitalia is the largest Italian freight railway company, comprising of 340 electric and 130 diesel locomotives, making it an influential player in the European logistics market.
The company boasts of a consolidated turnover of over €1 billion annually, with Gianfranco Battisti, CEO of the FS Italiane Group, contending that Mercitalia would be at the forefront of the company’s foray into the freight business, and help it compete on equal terms with other foreign giants in the sector.