It’s interesting comparing similar modes of travel in different countries. Train travel in Britain is fraught at the moment, we avoid it wherever possible for obvious reasons. To be fair, when it’s functioning, the return journey between London and Taunton (our closest train station) tends to be a pleasant one. However, the outward journey from Taunton to London rarely goes to plan. We invariable arrive late in London, often complicating connections to whichever airport it is we’re heading for. When organising trips, we plan with the expectation trains won’t be on time, if they’re running at all, which is a sad state of affairs.
It irks me to pay a lot of money for a service which can’t be relied upon, especially after travelling through Emilia Romagna by train, where a reliable service was essential for us to be able to meet our objectives.
Over eight days we caught seven trains, taking in two airports and five cities. The trains weren’t always bang on time, but the frequency and a choice of three different operators covering the same route meant that delays were a minor inconvenience at most. Apart from the Malpensa Express from Milan Central Station to Malpensa Airport, which was a wee bit on the grubby side, trains were modern, clean, and easy for visitors to use thanks to efficient onboard information systems.
Marconi Express from Bologna Airport to Bologna
The day before we were due to fly into Bologna Airport, the Marconi Express wasn’t running due to a strike. Because of the uncertainty, I waited until we landed before committing. That wasn’t a problem, I booked a ticket online (€11 one-way) while walking from baggage reclaim to the station. Within minutes, I was speeding to the centre of Bologna.
The Marconi Express gets a 1.5 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor, with reviewers complaining it is overpriced, bumpy, and crowded. To me, €11 seemed decent value for getting to the centre of Bologna without any hassle. I didn’t notice any bumps (it’s a monorail) and, at midday on a Saturday in March, there were only a handful of people. But there are only two tiny carriages, so I can see how it gets cramped. After leaving London at a reasonably civilised time, we were enjoying the smells, sounds, and sights of Bologna by 13:00. That’s a good result in my book.
Bologna to Modena
I love it when you get an app that does what it promises. I came to cherish the Trenitalia app during our time in Emilia Romagna. It’s über user friendly.
Emilia Romagna’s main cities lie in a line between Milan and Rimini. Throughout the day, travellers rarely have to wait to long to catch a train south east or north west. We had a choice of three – the high speed Frecciarossa, the most expensive at €16; the Intercity at €9; and the RV regional train, superb value at €4.30. The RV takes longer, just under 30 mins from Bologna to Modena as opposed to 17-20 mins, but it’s still just a hop of a journey. The frequency of trains meant we were able to enjoy a relaxed breakfast knowing we had plenty of options for getting to Modena in time to dump our luggage at the hotel and make a 10:30 appointment.
Modena to Reggio Emilia and back
Travelling to and from neighbouring Reggio Emilia couldn’t have been easier. Again, there were the same three choices – Frecciarossa (€15 each way), Intercity (€8.50), and RV (€3.50) – with the times for each being much the same, 12-15mins. That flexibility gives the traveller greater freedom.
Modena to Parma
By the time we moved from Modena to Parma (same choices, a 30-45 min journey for €18, €10, and €6), we were old hands at travelling along this route. When something works, it doesn’t take long to become familiar with it, and that confidence in the trains makes you want to use them more, especially when you feel you’re getting good value as well, as is the case in Italy.
Parma to Malpensa Airport via Milan
This involved two trains; the route we’d become accustomed to, and from Milan Central to Malpensa Airport T1. For once, and for speed, we used the Frecciarossa (€27.50 and 45 mins) to travel to Milan, the extra cost including a reserved seat and being able to check in online once we’d boarded.
In Milan there was some confusion where the platform for the Malpensa Express was, but there were plenty of staff around to confirm we had the right one. The Malpensa Express (51 mins and €13) was slightly seedy, and train staff warned of thieves, but it did its job. When you’re trying to get somewhere to catch a plane, that’s what matters.
Overall, travelling through Emilia Romagna by train was a reminder just how enjoyable and relaxing train travel can be, which is exactly how it should be in a time when sustainable travel is so important.
As a Brit travelling on spotless, ultra-modern trains for a handful of Euros, I couldn’t help but lament the general unsatisfactory state of train travel in Britain, and mentally curse those responsible for it.