For thousands of Italians making the regular 300-mile trip between Milan and Rome, it seemed to good to be true when not one, but two high-speed rail services emerged in the past few years to whisk them to their destinations. The journey time was slashed from six hours to three and the existence of rival firms meant low prices. But not for the first time the dream of fair competition and a better deal for consumers is turning sour.
NTV, one of the high-speed operators, appears to be in danger of derailing, hit, it alleges, by a mixture of underhand tactics from its state-owned rival Trenitalia, and indifference from MPs.
The firm has demanded in full-page newspaper advertisements that the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, acts to create a level playing field, after new operating charges imposed by the state-owned rail operator look set to raise its network charges from €120m to €140m a year. The plea follows reports that NTV may have to shed nearly a third of its 1,000 staff after losing €156m in its first two years. Passengers numbers are rising steadily but its trains are still less full than those of Trenitalia, which has also slashed prices, apparently hoping its subsidies would enable it to carry on long enough to see the private firm collapse in the price war.