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AirRail Italia 2015

AirRail Italia 2015 took place in Milan this year and provided an opportunity to learn about policy and developments in the Italian context. In the following section we report on the presentations made by various airport operators, as well as the infrastructure managers for both the regional and national rail networks.

It is important to recognise at the outset that, unlike the majority of the UK, rail infrastructure in Italy is managed by one of two bodies: the national company, Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI), holds responsibility for long distance and high speed lines; whereas local commuter lines are managed by regional bodies – in the case of Milan and Lombardia, by Trenord. As would be expected, the investment priorities and funding mechanisms of these groups differ.

Most presentations introduced the operator’s plan for improving rail access to airports to provide a convenient airrail link as well as provide enhanced accessibility to the wider region; the overarching theme was that of providing intermodality.

As of 2015, Italy’s busiest airports are:

  1. Rome – Fiumicimo

  2. Milan – Malpensa

  3. Bergamo – Orio al Sario

  4. Venice – Marco Polo

  5. Milan – Linate

Of these airports only Malpensa and Fiumicimo currently have airrail links under the brand Malpensa Express (operated by Trenord) and Leonardo Express (operated by Trenitalia) respectively – read our review of Malpensa Express here.


EU Policy

The majority of presentations referenced EU Directive 1315/13. This directive builds upon the designation of the TEN-T corridors and aspires to increase connectivity to airports and their urban areas along the TEN-T network – achieving intermodality along the corridor. The TEN-T network includes 38 European aviation hubs which should be connected to long distance rail, 11 of which are in Italy – The Mediterranean corridor passing across northern Italy.

Extract of the TEN-T Corridor passing through Northern Italy

The corridor encompasses the cities of Milan, Bergamo, Venice and Trieste who all presented their projects in the context of this directive.

The conference was told how the EU sees 3 obstacles to achieving the TEN-T accessibility goal:

  1. Connection between the airport and reference area

  2. Service to local residents in catchment area

  3. Connections beyond the immediate local area

Léa Bodossian, Secretary General of the Brussels-based industry association Airport Regions Conference (ARC) positioned the work of the group as promoting the fact that mobility brings wealth – as aviation is the quickest way to travel between a wide area, improving aviation links will bring growth. However, ARC was keen to highlight that one goal must be to reduce the CO2 impact of aviation, something that an airrail link can contribute to.

ARC priorities also include promotion of airport access in terms of its social context, noting that many low wage employees can only access airport jobs if reliable public transport is available.

On the wider topic of aviation, the anticipated EU aviation policy priorities include:

  1. Reducing airport congestion

  2. Providing seamless transport

  3. Improving scheduling and ticketing

  4. Reducing CO2

However, Bodossian noted her concern that intermodality is not expected to specifically feature in the new EU Aviation Strategy, which will reduce the policy support for such projects in future.

National Rail Priorities


We heard from Guilia Costagli of RFI who led us through the focus of investment for the national infrastructure manager. These are:

  1. To remove bottlenecks

  2. Improve line speed

  3. Develop intermodal links

In building intermodal links, RFI has a policy priority to develop airrail schemes, complementary to the aspirations of many airports.

We heard that at Rome Fiumicino, RFI seeks to improve reliability on the Leonardo Express whilst in the longer term work on a second rail link along a more northern corridor.

Similarly, at Milan Malpensa, a future connection from the high speed Turin to Milan line is under consideration, subject to funding.

Milan and its Catchment

As the conference was taking place at Malpensa Airport, a focus of much of the discussion was on improving links to the airport. Although Milan Linate Airport will be connected to the city’s metro system in 2022 – bringing added competition for European flights –  Malpensa Express is a key attribute of the airport. As such, the rail link is currently being extended to serve Terminal 2 by the autumn of 2016. It was the impact of this extension that was the subject of much thought as the new station provided at Terminal 2 provided an opportunity to serve the area to the north of the airport and become an intermodal hub for the area.

Pietro Modiano, chairman of the airport operator SEA Group was keen to highlight that this would help widen the airport’s catchment area. His preference would be to extend this rail connection further north to a nearby rail line, thereby allowing a loop to pass through the airport. However, later presentations mentioned that the airport only provided a limited amount of funding to the extension as it wasn’t considered a transport priority to serve Terminal 2. We heard how rail access to Terminal 1 was the priority as it provided a reliable route for passengers using the long-haul terminal; possibly allowing passengers to arrive at the airport earlier and spend time in the airport shops – a key income stream for an airport operator. If more passengers were to use the Malpensa Express it would also allow the airport to predict demand better at the security screening area, thereby maintaining a better service level for passengers as they would arrive at regular intervals.

Maplensa Express

The Malpensa Express currently operates 2 trains-per-hour (tph) from Malpensa Airport to a city centre station (Milan Cadorna) and 2tph to the long distance terminal (Milan Centrale). Many of the presenters at conference aspired for a service enhancement to allow for 4 tph to operate on both routes. Their is a feeling that a the low headway currently provided would mean that if a passenger misses a train, they may miss their flight. It was felt that this service enhancement, along with the extension to Terminal 2 would improve mode share, perhaps increasing it to 20% within the next 5 years.

On the topic of the Malpensa Express, we heard from the operator, Trenord’s CEO, Cinzia Farisé on the development of the service concept for the link. This was part of the 3 objectives that informed Trenord’s general investment:

  1. Airport transportation

  2. Evolution and development of rail network

  3. redefinition of regional rail services.

Apart from using the Malpensa Express to meet the objective of serving the airport, the service was also able to support developments within the city of Milan, which explains why it was key for the second route, to Milan Centrale, to call at the new business area situated around Porta Garibaldi. Trenord is thus meeting two of its objectives with the Malpensa Express – providing a rail link to the airport and providing a commuter rail service along the corridor. This helps to explain the trains’ internal design and ticket price and its priority on connectivity rather than premium service (there is no Wi-Fi on board and only some seats have access to a table); though if it were to meet ARC’s priority of developing public transport links to and from the airport for employees it would probably need to have longer operating hours.

Transporting Cities rode on the Malpensa Express whilst in Milan.

Other Case Studies


Francesco Mistrini of airport operator S.A.C.B.O. presented on proposals to bring a rail connection to Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport. Having seen a large growth in passengers, it now ranks as the 3rd busiest in Italy. With a regional rail line passing 5km from the airport, a branch would have to bring trains to within 500 metres of the terminal to provide an adequate interchange. S.A.C.B.O. have undertaken passenger forecasting proving that there is demand for the link.


Paolo Simioni, CEO of the airport operator SAVE Group, introduced the proposals for Venice Marco Polo Airport. This would see a branch line connected to the Venice – Trieste rail corridor that is a focus of the TEN-T programme. With the addition of a second runway, Venice airport is set to grow and it is considered that a new rail link would facilitate this growth; the airport is also promoting a connection to the commuter rail line. New rail services would arrive at an intermodal hub integrated with an expanded terminal and would include rail, bus and boat services. One caveat was that the intermodal hub and rail link would require EU funding.

SAVE Group’s principles for the new intermodal hub are:

  1. Efficiency of design – facilitating simple way finding and through routes.

  2. Guaranteeing the best possible intermodality – minimising the distance between the rail station and the airport terminal, possibly utilising moving walkways.

  3. Providing value for money.


Further east along the rail corridor, we heard from Stellio Vatta, Project Manager of the intermodal hub being promoted at Trieste Airport. Plans for the hub here would be to construct a station on the line where it passes the airport and integrate other modes into the new interchange.

Policy Research

To put the project schemes in context, we heard from Oliviero Baccelli of Bocconi University. He was keen to highlight that airrail demand is made up of two main user groups – international passenger and home passengers. These two groups have very different information and ticketing needs. His opinion was that the focus should be on international passengers as domestic traffic was reducing as a result of low economic growth and competition from high speed rail.

In order to reach international passengers, it would obviously be a preference to engage and build relationships with airlines; however, the conference discussed how this can be difficult if, as in the case of Malpensa, there is no hub airline.

Further discussion lead the conference to look for ways to build upon intermodal hubs to increase airrail traffic and better serve the local community. The idea of aligning the airport rail station to provide access to the local catchment, through bus and other links, was considered beneficial.



I attended the conference to understand how the Italian schemes were developed and the policy context within which projects achieved funding. The need for EU funding to support schemes was clear: the TEN-T corridor programme has stipulated that airports should be connected by rail; however, apart from the presentation from Bergamo Airport, I heard little reference to anticipated demand and or consideration of whether the project has a robust business case. Would EU funding be obtained without a sound economic study?

The north of Italy, has a number of large airports scattered around the main cities of Turin, Milan, Bergamo, Verona, Venice and Trieste, how many of these airports can realistically support dedicated airport link that will require a significant, up front capital investment. Take for example the north east of the country: we were told that the airport system covering Verona, Venice Marco Polo,  Trevisio and Trieste Airports has a total of 12 million passengers per year.  Even with future demand growth, this seems to be only a medium sized market where it would be difficult to justify providing an airrail link to all but the busiest, without considerable public subsidy. With the further development of high speed rail, is it likely that passengers will have quicker access to large airports beyond the region?

Some discussion at the conference focussed on the provision of airrail, noting that the TEN-T programme calls for a rail connection to be provided to the reference city; however, there is less guidance on what access should be provided and how far it should take a passenger. Passengers need seamless transport provided to their final destination, not just to a city centre station so onward connections must be considered when planning an airrail service. This connectivity was the subject of an evident difference in focus between national and regional operators: providing a rail link to the major intercity rail hub compared to a service to more local stations in the host region. It was for this reason that local connectivity beyond the host region was difficult to achieve as the regional operator has little appetite to enhance services beyond the regional territory.

If it were possible to develop these interregional links however, it would provide a much wider catchment for the airport and support a greater number of flights – reinforcing the airport’s position as a major hub and developing its employment market and contribution to local economic growth. It would seem that Italy has a choice to make between maintaining its many small-scale airports across the country or to focus investment to enhance connectivity to a limited number of hubs that would concentrate aviation growth in strategic areas and support a sustainable airrail network.



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