Through the Alpine Barrier to the Heart of Italy
ON THE NORTHERN RAILWAY OF FRANCE through coaches for the “Rome Express” are run from Calais to the Gare du Nord at Paris. From that station the coaches are worked round on the Paris Ceinture Line to the Gare de Lyon, the PLM terminus, where the main portion of the “Rome Express” begins its journey. The picture shows a luxury train of earlier years passing over the Nord line.
The title of the “Rome Express” recalls to mind the old proverb: “All roads lead to Rome”. Two thousand years ago Rome was the centre of the world’s land transport system, for it was the capital city of the only people who knew how to build a really good road. To-
It may be thought that traffic passing into Italy from the North is destined for Italy alone on every occasion, that country being a peninsula. This is not so, however. Travellers to the Levant often go by train to Venice, Trieste, or Brindisi, continuing their journey by sea. The “Rome Express”, however, is all-
Those old International Sleeping Cars were rather too gorgeous. They annoyed the late Mr. Arnold Bennett so much that he said they were not half as spacious and comfortable as an ordinary first-
At the time of its inauguration, the “Rome Express” left Calais at 12.49 mid-
During the war of 1914-
NINE HUNDRED MILES are covered between Paris and Rome by the “Rome Express” on the this route in under twenty-
After the war the “Rome Express” began to make several ambitious extensions. It was one of the first of the great trans-
In 1930 even Palermo, in Sicily, was brought into the range of the through coaches from Boulogne on four days a week. At the present time, in the same way as the “Orient Express” and its even closer relation the “Berlin-
Passengers from London leave Victoria at 11 am. The Southern Railway’s boat express is primarily part of the “Golden Arrow” service between London and Paris, described in the chapter beginning on page 232. The connecting boat from Dover arrives at Calais at 2.50 pm. As with the “Orient Express”, we shall perhaps see at Calais only two sleeping cars attached to an ordinary Northern Railway of France boat train, which follows the route of the “Golden Arrow” through Boulogne, Abbeville, and Amiens to the Gare du Nord in Paris. Thence the through sleeping cars are worked round the Paris Ceinture or “Belt” Railway to the PLM Terminus of the Gare de Lyon.
There is great romance in the Gare de Lyon. It is a gateway to the South, just as King’s Cross and the fine Central Station at Hamburg are gateways to the North, and as the West Station at Vienna, in spite of its name, is a gateway to the East. In his delightful novel of that name, the late William J. Locke sent his Beloved Vagabond out on to the Pont Neuf in Paris, to ask the statue of Henry IV whither he should go. The statue, he said, smiled down at him and pointed to the Gare de Lyon. The Beloved Vagabond went into the Gare de Lyon, and found a train just starting for Italy. “So,” he said, “I went to Italy.”
But that charming character probably went third class, and at the moment we are concerned with the “Rome Express”, which could not have catered for him. At the Gare de Lyon the rest of the train, consisting of long sleeping cars, a dining car, and two luggage vans, one containing a bathroom, will be found waiting at one of the departure platforms. All the cars are beautifully fitted and most comfortable.
As we rumble out to the south at twenty minutes past eight, an excellent French dinner is announced from the restaurant car. A night train getting into its stride is one of the best places in the world in which to enjoy a good dinner, and by the time the meal is over the “Rome Express” is well away from the neighbourhood of the French capital, hurrying through the darkness of Central France. There is nothing to do but read, relax and digest the meal until the berths are made up for the night. Although the PLM has recently introduced some fast timings on its lines, the “Rome Express” is not particularly speedy. It progresses southwards through France at a long, easy swing, and reaches Dijon, 195 miles, twenty-
LEAVING PARIS. The “Rome Express”, headed by a “Pacific” locomotive. The train departs from the Gare de Lyon at
8.20 pm. The first stop is at Laroche, ninety-
All is quiet on the cars as the train rolls out of Dijon, and bears away from the main line to Marseilles in a curve to east-
At Chambery a change-
From Chambery onwards to Modane, through St. Jean de Maurienne, the only intermediate stop, the train passes through magnificent mountain scenery. If the passenger is travelling at the right time of year, and if the weather is fortunate, he will be treated to a sunrise effect not easily forgotten. Most of us, however, are not fond of early rising, and many sunrises come and go without being appreciated. Not infrequently it is a night train, roaring up through the morning mists, that gives the best view of the most beautiful of all natural phenomena. A fine effect, which has been lost with the coming of electric traction over the mountain section, was that made by the columns of snowy-
Modane, where we leave the PLM, is an interesting place. It might be in either France or Italy, and its name might belong to either language. It is in France, in the extreme south of the department of Savoy, through whose mountains the “Rome Express” has been passing since it left the country preceding Aix-
At Modane most trains undergo official examination by the Italian Customs officials and frontier police, but in the present instance this is carried out on the train itself. Soon we shall be familiar with the black-
The train waits at Modane for half an hour, but as Italy sets her clocks by Central European time, our watches point to 7.15 (if we have put them on properly) when the “Rome Express” glides out to cross the frontier behind an electric locomotive belonging to the Italian State Railways. The Italian electric locomotives work on the three-
THE “ROME EXPRESS” is hauled over the line between Modane and Leghorn, a distance of 274 miles, by an Italian electric locomotive of this type. The locomotive is put on at Modane and hauls the express through the Mont Cenis Tunnel.
After leaving Modane, and before entering the Mont Cenis Tunnel, the line rounds a complete horse-
The “Rome Express” tops its Alpine summit-
At first sight the country seems generally similar to that which we left behind at Modane, but even after a few minutes we begin to find differences. The whole feeling of the air is different on the southern side of the Alps. There is a different smell about; there are subtly different shades in the colouring. A strange little mountain town which is passed on the left side recalls the general idea of a town in Corsica. It is wild, romantic, and primitive. French mountain towns seem to have an air of trying to be respectable under difficulties. There is none of that false “respectability” in Italy.
Changes are noticeable, too, in the railway equipment. Instead of the characteristic “chess-
The first stop made by the “Rome Express” in Italian territory is at Oulx-
The train continues to slip down through a relatively narrow belt of Alpine foothills into the great plain of North Italy, and by 9.15 am we are at Turin, fifty-
Turin has a fine station, and the whole place is an interesting example of nineteenth century town-
Having left Turin at 9.25, the “Rome Express” calls at Asti at 10.8, and reaches Alessandria, 115 miles from Modane, a little under half an hour later. It will be noticed that there is, on the whole, less long-
After Alessandria there is an end to the flat plains, for the train turns southwards and begins to climb into the Ligurian Apennines. At Ronco, 1,070 feet up and twenty-
The station at Genoa always seems to be a place of many tongues. This is natural, for not only does it serve a great sea-
Along the Gulf of Genoa
The station itself is bright and clean, but somehow rather cramped for space, and the “Rome Express”, were it worked by a steam engine, might give a sigh of relief as it slips out and continues its run along the coast. It is here that the electric locomotive proves itself to be a great aid to comfort, for the whole stretch down past Rapallo and Spezia contains one long succession of tunnels through projecting cliffs.
The intervening glimpses of Italian coast scenery, however, are charming, especially in the spring, when the pink Juias-
From Pisa, the Florence cars are taken on eastwards via Empoli, the junction for Siena, arriving at Florence at 4.10 pm. In the meantime, however, the main part of the “Rome Express”, soon to be headed by a 2-
Continuing south we reach Leghorn at one minute past three in the afternoon. It is here, 274 miles from Modane, that the change over to steam traction is made. We have covered, from Chambery, an all-
Notable external features of our new steed are the conical front, the large combined dome and sandbox, and above all the Fascist emblem of axe and faggots set in front of the chimney. The Fascist emblem is seen on all locomotives of the Italian State Railways.
Beyond Leghorn the sea-
Although steam trains are generally slower in Italy than electric trains, it is on this last lap that the “Rome Express” begins to sprint again, for the well-
On the last stretch along the coast the “Rome Express” recalls ancient history when it passes Tarquinia, which takes its name from the line of legendary kings who ruled over ancient Rome before she became a republic and expelled Tarquin II in 509 BC. After Civita Vecchia, too, we pass the ancient port of Rome before striking inland across the Campagna.
AN ITALIAN “PACIFIC” locomotive built for express services in 1932. The heating surface is 2,368 sq ft, and working pressure 227½ lb. There are four cylinders -
Here, for most of us, is the end of the journey. The train goes forward, however, and, after fast running across the grey-
Apart from the passenger traffic handled by the Italian State Railways’ ferries between Sicily and the mainland, there is also a considerable fruit traffic. Much of this Sicilian produce is conveyed in special containers for cities in Northern and Central Europe.
Sicily is different from Italy, just as Scotland is different from England. The inhabitants have a strong Greek strain in their blood, so that the racial difference draws a double parallel. To the southwards, as the train steams along past Barcelona and Patti, there is a superb view of the perfect cloud-
The Sicilian lines are part of the Italian State Railways, whose standard rolling-
Another interesting fact that the traveller should remember while on the “Rome Express” is the change of time from Greenwich to Central European time, and vice-
ALONG THE ITALIAN COAST, between the stations of Genoa and Spezia, the “Rome Express” has to pass through a succession of tunnels bored through projecting cliffs. This illustration shows Nervi station, seven miles east of Genoa.
[From part 38, published 18 October 1935]