The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
An Italian Interlude. July 1980

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

I spent just over three weeks in Italy and for most of that time was a 'genuine' tourist doing whatever genuine 'tourists' get up to. I'd indulged my love of travelling by train all the way from France down to Sicily and once there spent time enjoying 950mm gauge Fiat railcars and steam engines. Now it was off to Austria and for variety I travelled along the sole of the Italian boot, across the heel, then up the back of the boot even managing to take one or two photos along the way........... 

First off, we have a well air conditioned (the windows are all open), standard gauge, diesel railcar of the ALn772 class. According to Wikipedia three hundred and twenty seven ALn772 were built between 1937 and 1957 and with a top speed of 130km/hr, during the 1950s, they were the backbone of Italy's fast passenger fleet. By the time of my visit they were working a number of local passenger services throughout the country and by 1986 had all been retired.

A four wheel 950mm gauge railcar at Catanzaro Lido. Did I travel on it? No. Did I take any more photos of it? No. Can I tell you any more about it: despite internet searching all I have been able to come up with is it belonged to the Ferrovie Calabro-Lucane Railway which operated a number of these units in Southern Italy.

Even smaller in the 'railcar' stakes would be this little broad gauge gem at Crotone. It was for the local track gang though and not the general public.

Now I wasn't expecting any steam on the mainland of Italy so this 2-6-0 on a works train came as a complete surprise when seen at Pescara. As to class and number I didn't bother noting them at the time and the internet wasn't much help in this time either.

Now that I had my camera out I took a few more photos as I waited for my train at Pescara. After internet research I reckon the loco on the right is a 626 class of which four hundred and forty eight were built between 1927 and 1939. They lasted a long time in service before the last one was written off in 1999. On the left is a slightly more modern E428. Over two hundred were built between 1934 and 1943 with the last withdrawn in 1988.

Another shot of the steam loco along with an arriving EMU and trailer. I searched for some information on the EMU but came up with too many possibilities to hazard a guess.

This was the three total relief express, starting at Pescara, I joined for the journey north. By the time it reached Rimini, around two hundred and fifty kilometres away it had swelled to a sixteen total monster.


I (RD) forwarded this tale to my resident Italian expert, Filippo Ricci who has gone a long way towards tying up the loose ends in this tale:

Pic 1: I believe this pic was taken in Catanzaro Lido station, I found a matching building on Google Maps and I can read 048 on the railcar which means it is probably Aln 772 1048 (Fiat 1940) part of the Fiat batch (1001- 1100) a number of which was allocated to Catanzaro until the early 1980s (7 in 1978, by March 1983 all had been transferred or cut up). This particular one was transferred to Siena and cut up there in 1987.

Pic 2: It should be explained that Catanzaro has a complex railway geography and many stations: the FS standard gauge network had a junction station at Catanzaro Sala (closed 2008) were the lines from Lamezia and Reggio Calabria converged and headed for Catanzaro Lido were there is an head-on junction with the Catanzaro-Taranto line  (very few trains run through). Catanzaro Lido is also the starting point for the 950mm gauge line to Cosenza, owned by FCL in the period 1961-1995, which runs alongside the FS line to Catanzaro Sala but then has to climb steeply from sea level to gain access to the city centre which, as in so many Italian towns, is on a hilltop.

So the line has to climb about 1000ft in under 8 miles and to achieve this there is a mile and a half of Strub rack railway between Sala and Cittą stations; after Catanzaro Cittą the line goes to Cosenza. Due to the rack section custom rolling had to be provided until 1984 when two special rack locos were built to push normal rolling stock on the rack. In 1937 the builder Piaggio (the one that post war specialized in Vespa scooters) built 10 railbuses numbered M1c 81-90 with a stainless steel body, an OM engine and gearbox and a cog wheel to brake on the rack. By the early 1950s they were very rundown so they were radically rebuilt retaining only the original frame and running gear: a new body was built by Ranieri while the new engine was a General Motors GM 6-71 salvaged from American tanks left in Italy after the war set to deliver 160 HP.

Apart from no.87 which retained the original stainless body and was already stored in Cosenza by 1975 ( (link broken by November 2020) all others were shedded in Catanzaro from the early 1970s until withdrawal in 1984; one is preserved in the Museo dei Trasporti Ogliari in Ranco (see below).

Pic 3: Despite its makeshift appearance this vehicle was mass produced by FIAT in quantity and is the Italian equivalent of the British Wickham trolley, used to carry workers, small tools and materials for permanent way control and maintenance. They were built in the latter half of the 1960s using FIAT 600T and 850T van body parts with the rear section replaced by a second front section to obtain a bi-directional vehicle; mechanical parts came from the famous FIAT 500 car hence its official designation as FIAT 500 Motocarrello (FIAT 500 motortrolley).

By the early 1990s more modern vehicles were available so many of these old units were scrapped; some however have survived and a list is available here:

In this picture you can see an Italian D.341 class first generation diesel electric loco built 1957-1963, some with a FIAT engine and some with a Paxman (identical to BR class 29) set to deliver 1380 hp.

All the other pics are taken in the old Pescara Centrale station which was closed in 1988 following doubling and realignment of the Ancona - Bari mainline; the old station building still stands today but all the rest had been cleared and the site redeveloped. Wilson was extremely fortunate to see an Italian steam loco in steam in 1980: the number of steamable engines was down to less than 100 nationwide and most of them were steamed only on very rare occasions: diesel unavailability, enthusiast specials and deicing in winter. Excluding the Castelvetrano - Ribera narrow gauge locos and those for the Paola-Cosenza rack line the number of locos regularly in steam would have been 10 or even less.

This one no.625 018 survived because it was deemed necessary to provide a breakdown train in Pescara and a loco had to be subshedded there from Ancona, 90 miles to the North; by then almost all sheds had a spare diesel or electric available for the breakdown train but Pescara had nothing else.

I found three pics showing it in Italian books: one from March 1980 shows it shunting in the station as the diesel shunter had failed, one very similar to Wilson's but with the number visible and finally one from September 1984 showing it withdrawn in Ancona shed shortly before being cut up in 1985. The 625 class comprised 186 members built 1911-1922, 5ft 1 wheels, 50 mph maximum speed and were used for mixed traffic duties on cross-country and branch lines. The contrast between the modern breakdown wagons built in the 1970s and the 70 year old locomotive is striking!

The electric railcar on pic 6 is probably Ale 880 073 part of a 166 strong class (Ale 790 and Ale 880) built 1938-1943 by various builders (this one by FIAT) and having 88 third, later second, place; withdrawals started in 1984 and completed in 1993. This particular example was once preserved in Trieste but was cut up in the late 1990s due to blue asbestos, luckily a few others still survive.

Finally pic 7 is interesting because it shows a veteran E.428 on a relief express: by the early 1970s this class had been downgraded to freight and local passenger working but they returned to front line duty every summer when loads of holidaymakers and migrants returning to their home village in Southern Italy necessitated a big number of reliefs: these trains caused widespread delays because these locos, once capable of 80 mph, were limited to 60 to limit track damage as they weighed 135 tons! This train is composed of Italian 1950s stock and you can see another special in the background of pic 5, E.428 in front and a blue DB coach at then left end of the picture, so it was probably bound for Germany.

Rob Dickinson