Italy launched Europe’s first private high-speed rail (HSR) service last week, as the country looks toward the more liberal economy that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti wants to put on the rails.
The dark-red bullet-shaped “Italo” trains are run by NTV, a company headed by Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who wants to take a quarter of the market from state rail network Trenitalia, the biggest employer in the country.
“Italo has arrived, the competition has kicked off,” NTV told its first passengers on an inaugural trip from Rome to Naples as they admired interiors that included a cinema carriage, leather seats and panoramic windows.
The project is one example of the new ambitions of the eurozone’s third-largest economy under Monti, a former EU competition commissioner who plans to shake up a sluggish economy heavily influenced by protectionist traditions.
Economics professor Monti came to power in November last year, replacing former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and has said he wants to take on “vested interests” as well as calling for large-scale privatizations.
“We’re talking a lot about growth. This is real growth for the country by someone who invests and takes a risk,” Montezemolo told reporters, pointing out that the company had invested 1 billion euros (US$1.3 billion).
“We should be proud of being the first in Europe with a private high-speed train company,” the entrepreneur said. “This is a day that shows we have confidence in our country.”
France’s national rail company SNCF owns a 20-percent stake in NTV, but the majority is held by a consortium of Italian businessmen, including Montezemolo and Diego Della Valle, the billionaire head of luxury shoemaker Tod’s. The carriages are produced by French company Alstom.
“Our aim is to take a 20-25 percent stake of the market by 2014,” transporting 9 million passengers within three years, Montezemolo said, adding that the company would operate 25 trains by January next year.