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Taking a long-distance train journey often feels like going back in time. Now, a new route opening up fast, direct access between two European countries will spin passengers back more than a century to the times of the Habsburg empire.
A new high-speed route between Italy and Slovenia is now on the cards, thanks to a newly signed agreement between state operators Trenitalia and SŽ Passenger Transport, or Slovenian Railways.
A Frecciarossa train will run eastwards from Milan to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, in seven hours. It’ll pass through storied Italian cities Venice and Trieste, as well as making stops for some of Slovenia’s noted nature attractions, including Postojna Caves and Skocjan Caves, as well as Lipica, where the famous Lipizzaner horses have been bred since 1580.
Today, the horses with their “dancing” feet are best known for the displays at Vienna’s Spanish Riding School – which makes sense, since this part of the world, on the modern Slovenia-Italy border, used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire (or the Habsburg empire, before 1867).
In fact the train itself should have a feeling of winding back the centuries to that earlier period. It is thought that this is the first train from Milan to Ljubljana since the empire was dissolved in 1918.
It’s also picking up the route of a night train from Budapest to Venice, which passed through Ljubljana, but finished in 2011.
Since 2018, there has been a regional train from Trieste to Ljubljana, but train staff of the two operators switch at the border at Villa Opicina station.
Although a Trenitalia representative told CNN that there is no set date for the launch, Slovenian Railways have told media that they want to start “as soon as possible” – which could mean from April. It’s expected that there will be one service per day initially, eventually expanding to two.
April will also see the launch of a Rijeka-Trieste (Villa Opicina) route from Croatian Railways.
Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) trains are capable of reaching speeds of 300 kph (284 mph) on the Italian network, although it’s unlikely they’ll go that fast on this route, at least at first, since east of Venice speeds tend to slow down.
In March 2023, the Italian government pledged 1.8 billion euros (nearly $2 billion) to upgrade the Venice-Trieste line to fully high-speed. The Slovenian lines will now be tested to see if they can also be upgraded.
“It was about time that a serious rail connection was restored between Trieste and Ljubljana – It sounds like a joke, but it is often the case in the region that the railway connections were better a century ago than they are today,” says journalist Giovanni Vale, founder of the Extinguished Countries project, which publishes guidebooks to countries that no longer exist, and is currently working on one to the Habsburg Empire.
“Trieste and Ljubljana were first connected by train in 1857, when both cities were part of the Habsburg Empire. The South Railway Company (Südbahn-Gesellschaft), which ran from Vienna to Trieste via Ljubljana, was one of the flagships of the Empire’s infrastructure. Trieste was at that time one of the most important ports in the world and its connection to Vienna was very important for the Empire.
“With the end of the First World War, Trieste became a city in the far northeast of Italy, in an almost peripheral position and rail connections to the east with Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade or Budapest were often lacking.
“Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a new season for rail connections between Trieste and the Balkans.”
The agreement follows Trenitalia’s similar initiatives with its Eurocity and Euronight trains, which connect Italy with Switzerland, Germany and Austria with direct trains. It’ll be a Eurocity route, operated by a Frecciarossa.
Trenitalia has also signed a preliminary agreement with Deutsche Bahn to bring the Frecciarossa into service on Italy-Germany routes before the end of 2026. A Milan-Munich route is on the cards, with extensions from there to other German destinations.
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