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Thousands of tickets cancelled as Italy keeps social distancing on trains

More than 8,000 passengers had rail journeys cancelled over the weekend after the Italian government announced that trains could only travel half full.

Thousands of tickets cancelled as Italy keeps social distancing on trains
A passenger waiting in Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

While the Ministry of Transport indicated it would relax the rules requiring trains to keep 50 percent of all seats empty, the Health Ministry insisted that social distancing of at least a metre was mandatory – catching rail operators by surprise at the start of Italy's peak holiday season.

“It's only right that the safety rules applied so far remain in place on trains,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Saturday afternoon, August 1st.

“For this reason I signed an ordinance reiterating that in all enclosed public spaces, including public transport, both social distancing and wearing face masks is and remains obligatory.”

READ ALSO: What you should know if you're visiting Italy this summer

The announcement set train companies scrambling to comply, with high-speed train company Italo saying it had cancelled eight trains on Sunday morning and told other ticket holders they wouldn't be able to travel that afternoon.

In total some 8,000 passengers had their journeys disrupted, the company said, adding that customers would receive a full refund for unused tickets.

State-owned rail company Trenitalia said it was contacting passengers individually to invite them to change their reservation or accept a refund.

Both companies said they expected to be able to mitigate the disruption in the coming days, a period when millions of people in Italy would typically set off on their August holidays. While many are unable to travel this summer, others have swapped trips overseas for vacations within Italy, keeping trains, roads and ferries busy.

Tickets for high-speed Frecciarossa trains from Milan to southern Italy are already almost sold out for the coming weekend, reports said on Monday.


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The confusion over whether companies could sell more than 50 percent of tickets arose after an emergency decree mandating social distancing and other precautions expired on July 31st, without an official replacement. The government is expected to extend safety rules in a new decree this week. 

Earlier guidelines from the Ministry of Transport, issued in July, said passengers that would be allowed to sit near each other if they declared that they lived in the same household.

“The government never authorised 100 percent capacity,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday, calling the decision to maintain social distancing for all passengers “prudent”. It said it had reviewed its guidelines with health experts and instead opted to avoid “needless risks”.

Yet some regions of Italy, notably Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria and Friuli Venezia Giulia in the north, have threatened to issue their own ordinances allowing regional trains to run fully occupied.

READ ALSO: What rules will you need to follow if you're visiting Italy this summer?

Anyone taking a train in Italy this summer can expect to find themselves seated 'a scacchiera' (chessboard-style), i.e. with empty seats to their side and in front.

You'll also have to follow a designated one-way route through the carriage, leading to separate entrances and exits, and must wear a face mark throughout your journey.

People taking long-distance services will also have their temperature checked before boarding and may have to sign a form declaring themselves healthy.


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

While social distancing remains compulsory on trains and other public transport in Italy, people taking an aeroplane will find themselves sitting elbow to elbow with other passengers.

In line with EU-wide guidance, airlines are allowed to fill planes to 100 percent capacity on the grounds that their air filters continually draw in and circulate outside air.

READ ALSO: Face masks, forms and fewer bags: Italy's rules on flying

Passengers must wear face masks – replacing them with fresh ones every four hours – and place jackets and other small items in sterilised containers.

They are once more allowed to bring hand luggage aboard, after the Italian government scrapped a temporary ban on the use of overhead lockers.

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TRAVEL NEWS

What does Italy’s general strike on Friday mean for travel?

Italian trade unions have called a nationwide general strike for Friday, May 20th. Here's a look at how travel within the country will be affected.

What does Italy’s general strike on Friday mean for travel?

The strike has been organised by a range of national and regional trade unions representing various sectors in protest at the Italian government’s spending on the Ukraine war.

Union leaders say the funds should be targeted instead at increasing workers’ wages and, in turn, families’ purchasing power.

Walter Montagnoli, national secretary of the CUB union, told SkyTG24: “The conflict needs to be stopped. […] Draghi’s government is taking military expenses to 2 percent of our GDP: national defence expenses will go from 25 to 38 billion euros, thus reducing the budget for healthcare, education, public transport, the construction industry and, naturally, pensions and wages.”

Demonstrations are set to take place in cities across Italy, including in Milan, Rome, Messina, Palermo, Catania, Cagliari, Turin, Bologna, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Turin, Genoa, La Spezia, Reggio Emilia, Trieste, Bergamo and Taranto, according to media reports.

Strike action is otherwise expected to focus on the transport sector, meaning some disruption to travel plans is likely – depending on where you are in Italy and what time you’ll be travelling.

Here’s a look at what you should know before setting out on your journey on Friday. 

Train services 

Railroad services will be affected for a period of 24 hours, from 9pm on Thursday to 9pm on Friday.

However, Trenitalia has already communicated that Freccia and Intercity trains will run regularly and essential regional services will be guaranteed in the following time frames: 6am to 9am and 6pm to 9pm.

If you’re travelling with Italo, the company has published a list of its guaranteed services on its website

Local public transport 

Local public transport including buses, trams and metro trains in Italian towns and cities will also be affected by the strike action, but the magnitude of disruption to regular services will depend largely upon the area.

Rome and Milan will likely be the most affected cities.

In Milan, metro trains will run regularly until at least 6pm, whereas buses and tram services may be affected between 8.45am and 3pm and after 6pm.

In the capital, local transport providers ATAC and TPL said services will operate normally before 8.30am and from 5pm to 8pm.

If you’ll be commuting, you’re advised to consult the website of your local transport provider before setting off.

Flights

The ENAC (Italian Civil Aviation Authority) confirmed that all flights between 7am and 10am and between 6pm and 9pm will operate as normal.

However, they strongly suggest that travellers contact their airline to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport.

See ENAC’s website for further information.

Travelling by car

Travelling by car might also be fairly problematic (or more problematic than it usually is) as motorway toll booth staff are set to strike from 10pm on Thursday to 10pm on Friday.

While the impact may differ from one part of the country to another, this is likely to mean a smaller number of toll booths are open and, as a result, lines at some motorway entrances will be longer than usual.

Drivers are advised to consult motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia’s traffic map for real-time updates.

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