International passenger

trains in 20th Century Europe

International passenger trains in 20th Century Europe

Beeches, mountains, lakes and seaside

Apart from diplomatic and freight handling, Italy offered copious attractions to the travelling public. The Italian coastline from the French frontier to the area around Viareggio on the west coast of Italy was a famed beach area which drew holidaymakers from western and northern Europe through Genova. Likewise on the eastern coast lay the Adriatic Riviera around the resorts of Rimini and Riccione. These were accessed from Bologna by the main line running down the east coast to Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.

A service which disappeared by 1920 was a through express called the Peninsula and Orient Express from London/Calais to Marseilles and also to Brindisi. These were connecting services for shipping to Egypt, bringing Cairo within five days travel of London. Connecting travel from Istanbul to the Middle East was not yet in place and would not be until after the First World War. It is noteworthy that this route offered a real alternative for French passengers seeking Greece.

Milano was a leading centre of Italian commerce and drew business travellers from the rest of Europe using the Simplon, Gotthard or Mont Cénis routes. It was also the gateway to the Balkans through Venezia and then Yugoslavia.

Traffic routes Paris to Italy


Paris-Roma traffic used the Mont Cenis tunnel to Genova and thence down the west coast of Italy through Viareggio to Roma. The opening in 1934 of the new Appenine Tunnel between Bologna and Firenze replaced the steeply graded single track route known as the Porretana. Paris-Roma trains now had the choice of two routes.   After 1946 service to Roma was resumed from Paris by cars being attached to the Simplon Orient Express and then detached at Milano for southward despatch. However the Mont Cenis route remained the favoured route for Paris-Roma trains but the frequency dropped so that, by the end of the century, the only through train left from Paris was an overnight hotel train by this route.

Main routes to Italy

Traffic routes Berlin to Italy


Up to 1939, traffic to Italy was generated from Berlin, Hamburg, Köln and Műnchen and was funneled through Zürich, Basel or Brenner/Verona.  The principle destination was Roma and trains  Germany used the Gotthard Tunnel route to Milano or alternatively the Brenner Pass south from München. In the heyday of this service two routes predominated – Leipzig/Halle/Plauen to München and then the Brenner Pass to Roma or Frankfurt-Basel-Chiasso to Milano thence Roma. Sometimes trains were routed through Zürich rather than Basel.

For the first fifty years of the 20th Century there was a strong connection between Berlin and Roma. Starting in 1902 with the introduction of a through express from Berlin to Napoli via München and the Brenner Pass – the Berlin-Neapel Express, frequencies peaked in the 1930s as the political alignment of Germany and Italy merged. In 1935 there were five trains each way daily.

After 1945 with Berlin no longer a capital city such traffic all but disappeared. For a brief period between 1961 and 1978 a single return service sufficed and that only admitted second class passengers. Thereafter service was not resumed.

D2:2 - The lure of Italy

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