• The FS light electric vehicles

  • Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of Canada and the United States.
Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of Canada and the United States.

Moderators: Komachi, David Benton

  by Benny
In 1928 Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), the italian manager of the state railways, began testing the 3000 v DC wiring and, due to the excellent results against the previous three-phase and third rail DC systems, it became the standard for new electrifications.
This gave way to a development in the field of self propelled vehicles but, contrary to what happened in the endothermic railcars, the so-called "electric light vehicles" born primarily for fast and high level services and then was understood their usefulness in minor ones.

Firstly I want to explain the three kinds of vehicles to which I will refer.
The electric railcars are motor bidirectional vehicles that can be used singly or coupled with similar ones or with trailers, driving or not.

The Electric Multiple Units, EMUs, instead are complexes of two or more vehicles, motor or not, that can be separated but cannot be used singly because of not being bidirectional or because of the fault of some components.

Between these two categories there is a third one: the articulated railcars that are single bidirectional vehicles but composed of various bodies that cannot be normally separated, often use Jakobs bogies and have the power equipment divided along the vehicle.
The articulated railcars were a typical Italian specialty and the electric ones were named ElettroTreno Rapido (ETR) that typified a fast, aerodynamic, modern and comfortable vehicle.
This name remains on use still today, sometimes not properly used as we will see in the next chapters.

The classifying system of the ETRs is simply based on a three digits class number in which the last one or two indicate the unit number, e.g. ETR 212 was unit 12 of ETR 200 class. There is not a connection with the vehicle characteristics.

Numbering of electric railcars, trailers and EMUs instead is always preceded by the initials ALe (that means Automotrice Leggera elettrica or light electric railcar) if a motor or Le (Leggero elettrico, light electric) if a trailer. The capital letter R that meant rimorchio, trailer was quickly eliminated to avoid confusion with the narrow gauge FS stock equally prefixed R.
After these letters there are six numbers: nnn.nnn; the first two digits are the number of seats of the unit and the third a progressive number for different models with the same number of seats. These three numbers represent the class: e.g. class ALe 883 is a 88 seats railcar and is the third class with the same number of seats.
the three figures after the point are the progressive number of the unit inside the class. E.g. ALe 540.005 is a 54 seats railcar and it's a the fifth unit of its class.
Sometimes the fourth digit has been used to differentiate between different subclasses: e.g. Le 803.102 is an intermediate trailer, instead Le 803.015 is a driving trailer.

As a curiosity the number 880 has been used by FS for four different classes: steam locomotives 880, diesel railcars ALn 880, the relative trailers Ln 880 and electric railcars ALe 880; and this is not the sole case. This is why, speaking about FS stock, its necessary specify the complete class digits.

OK, that's all, folks, in a short time the next chapter.

Ciao :wink:
  by David Benton
Thanks Benny, Fascinating as usual .
Do you know how many K.m of 3000v d.c remain in use in Italy?.
  by Benny
The total amount of the RFI (the FS subsidiary that manages infrastructure) lines is more or less 24000 km of which approximately 11500 are wired at 3000 v DC, that remains the italian standard, and on nearly 600 km is used 25000 v single phase current. These ones are all newly built high speed lines.
More, there are short stretches, e.g. from Brenner to the border, that are wired with the kind of current used in the nearby nation.

Ciao :wink:
  by Benny
In the 30s air and road transport were developing fast and railways were loosing those clients attracted by luxury and modernity. To contrast this trend it was needed a fast, comfortable and modern looking train like the endothermic railcars, with a light axleload because of the tracks not very heavy and not hungry in energy because of the autarchy politics, so in 1936 born ETR 200 class, an articulated railcar of three bodies over four bogies (the inner ones Jakobs type) and wheel arrangement Bo-1A-A1-Bo with an hourly power of 1050 Kw.
The new technologies in metallurgy and electrotechnics made that all the traction equipment was put underfloor with the axleload remaining at 16 tons.
The first and second bodies were luxuriously furnished and air conditioned for first and second class passengers (at the time there were three classes), instead the third body was reserved for luggage, kitchen (at seat meals) and on-board services.
Interiors and aerodynamic shape were studied by the best architects of the time, namely Giuseppe Pagano, and the unmistakable "viper" front end was studied with the help of Turin politechnic university on the hydrodynamic tub.
After tests they were put on duty on the top services between Milan, Rome and Naples and were ordered more units, this time without second class accommodation; the class finally amounted at 18 ETRs that were used on "rapido" fast trains not only on the North-South dorsal but also along the Adriatic line until Ancona, limit of the wiring, from where passengers to the south had connection with diesel railcars to Pescara, Foggia, Bari and Lecce. The maximum speed was fixed in 160 km/h (approx. 100 mph) but ETR 212 established in 1939 a new railway speed record at 203 km/h and in the same year ETR 209, together with other stock, was sent to the New York World Fair
Note that ETR and railcars sent to the "big apple" were painted with this strange livery instead of the classic FS two-tone brown.

In 1940 all the "elettrotreni" were dumped because of war but during the conflict nearly all were damaged, two ones so badly that had to be demolished.
It follows...

Ciao :wink:
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Last edited by Benny on Fri May 01, 2020 10:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by Benny
After WW2 the remaining ETRs were repaired, now with first class only accommodation, and retook the previous duties integrated by new high level services as new wirings and conversions proceded but accommodation resulted scarce because of the increasing people that could afford a first class Rapido ticket so, at the beginning of the 60s, a new passenger body over two bogies was added to the luggage one whose front end was transplanted to the new body. So modified, the class changed to ETR 220 and was repainted in the elegant "pearl grey and magnolia green" that characterised the more performing FS stock.
Between 1966 and 1972 the bogies were changed to more performing ones (powering also the ones of the new body) and, in some units, gearing was varied and breaking implemented to give a top speed of 180 km/h. More, because of new safety norms, the two small crystals of the front end were changed to a single armored glass so ETR 220s were nicknamed "polyphemus".

With the progress of wiring and the birth of other classes of ETRs or high level electric railcars, ETR 220s were displaced from the Milan-Rome-Naples to other Rapido services like the Turin/Genoa-Milan-Venice-Trieste/Udine, very often in two or three units, the Milan-Bari, the Genoa-Rome, the Florence-Trieste and the Rome-Ancona.
To be noted that, when used in two or three units (three units were theoretically not allowed to run together but the regulation was derogated every week end because of the heavy patronage), all units were controlled by the first one driver but each one needed to be manned to control the operations because wheel slipping check cannot be transmitted between units.
Incidentally ETR 200/220s were nearly ever used for fast services but for many years a unit made an off peak couple of stopping trains between Milan Porta Romana (an unknown little station with four trains a day) and Bologna Central: 216 km and 30 stops each way but a very comfortable journey for the locals.
Another strange use has been on shuttle services between Milan and Monza (14 km) when, in the 90s, road traffic was stopped because of the high pollution.

In the 80s five units were transformed with the third body (kitchen and luggage), lightly used, converted to passenger accommodation and formed the new class ETR 240.
Other seven ETR 220 were partly refitted for second class but these new upgradings were stopped because FS changed policy about the expected life of older stocks.

The long career of these veterans of the high speed achieved in the second half of the 90s (and who could imagine that the still actual design was created 60 years before?), with the last Rapidos on the Rome-Naples, practically a return to the origins, and some charters, but ETR 232, the original ETR 212 of the speed record, has been preserved by FS historical foundation. Today it is stabled at the Pistoia historical stock depot waiting for a (not so) possible overhaul.

Ciao :wink:
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Last edited by Benny on Fri May 01, 2020 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by Benny
In this 1977 film you can enjoy some ETRs on normal duty in the Milan area, along with much other FS older stock.

Ciao :wink:
  by NorthWest
Thanks, Benny!

Those are some good looking railcars. It's interesting how much many of the modern railcars look like those. I think I like the split front window best.
  by Benny
Many of the reasons that led to the birth of ETR 200s, mainly the need to offer modern, faster and more comfortable vehicles than the classic loco and coaches sets and the search for economies in the daily management, gave way to the creation of single unit railcars that partly repeated the characteristics of the bigger brothers.
Until there electric railcars were no more than powered coaches, robust but heavy, slow and ugly; instead the new project showed, thanks to the progresses in sealing, metallurgy and metal carpentry together with smaller performing electrical components, a light but strong body that could reach a good speed with a good acceleration needing a low amount of energy. The two viper front ends, the comfortable interiors (although not at ETRs level) and the streamlining made them a completely new and attractive item in the italian railways, only comparable with the nearly-coeval diesel railcars.
Three classes were built, each one powered by four traction motors for a total hourly output of 360 Kw and a top speed of 115 km/h:
ALe 79.2001-2012, later 792.001-012, with second and third class accommodation
ALe 88.2001-2010, later 880.001-010, with only third class accommodation
ALe 40.2001-2002, later 402.001 (the second unit was destroyed in an accident), restaurant railcars with two dining rooms for second and third class passengers separed by the kitchen.
Assigned to Rome and Naples depots they were used on direct trains to Foggia, Reggio Calabria, Leghorn and Bologna but their success showed the defects too, mainly that very few trains needed a single car and trainsets of more units needed one guard each one because of the fault of gangway between vehicles, thing that affected also the circulation of the passengers along the train, especially the ones wanting restaurant service.
Until 1941-2 the situation remained stable but with the progress of the war the electric railcars were set aside. Many of them were damaged by bombing, sabotages or looting and someone had to be demolished. During the repairing of the two passenger classes, those had the original slam doors changed to electropneunatic folding ones.
At the beginning of the 50s the same classes were concentrated in Naples and became used for shorter distance direct or stopping trains. The remaining ALe 402.001 instead stayed in Rome and was used to cater trains of railcars, more modern too. To help the passengers movement, in 1957 one of the ends was truncated and rebuilt in a flat shape with gangway that exalted the tapering of the body.
During the 60s it was transformed into a normal passenger railcar with 78 seats and became ALe 782.001.
At the same time all the three classes, ALe 792, 882 and 782, were transferred to Foggia depot, that became their home until retirement.
At Foggia ALe 792 and 882 were employed, mainly in couples, almost exclusively on stopping trains along the adriatic line not further north than Pescara with few escapades on the difficult line to Benevento.
The minor sister ALe 782.001 instead was used on the now closed short line Margherita di Savoia-Ofantino to Margherita di Savoia and then for the staff transfer between the various Bari installations.
Progressively retired in the 80s after fifty years of honorable career , the first italian light electric railcars were not really highlighted, also because of their remote allocation and the obscure work in the last 30 years of service, but they were good horses and had the unquestionable merit of taking new concepts in the fields of train building and travelling.

ALe 792.004 is preserved inside Pietrarsa national railway museum.
ALe 782.001 is privately owned and has been placed in open air in a small private airfield near Altamura.

Images courtesy of:
Franco Pepe
Lombardia beni culturali

Ciao :wink:
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  by NorthWest
Restaurant railcars, particularly in such small single units, are very interesting! Thanks!
  by Benny
Immediately after the building of the double-aerodynamic electric railcars, their project was revised to remove some defects and simplify building.
To help the passengers movement between units one of the front ends was redesigned with a flat face only slightly pointed comprising two doors that covered the bellows of the gangway.
More, some units were designed with two flat front ends to be used as intermediate vehicles.
In the two cases the driving cab was was put in a cubicle on the left side of the flat end; instead the second driver was in another cubicle in the right side. The back cab was so narrow that the controller, normally in front or on the right of the driver, had to be positioned on the left side joint with the brake handle.
The bogies showed a difficult regulation of the braking system so were changed to a different model.
Their position too was changed: in the ETRs they had to be put back to help aerodynamic but this was irrelevant for vehicles with a 120 km/h top speed so were displaced to increase the distance between bogie pivots and lower the center of gravity.
For the same reason the body tapering was not necessary so the bodies were built with vertical sides increasing strengthness.
The electrical equipment instead remained the same, with a hourly rate of 360 Kw.
From the new project born many units:
ALe 790.001-022 (later ALe 880.101-116), two flat ends, 23 first class and 56 third class seats.
ALe 880.001-034, two flat ends, 32 second class and 56 third class seats.
ALe 790.023-066, two different ends, 23/56 seats.
ALe 880.035-100, two different ends, 32/56 seats.
ALe 400.001.010, restaurant cars, two different ends, two halls for 23 second and 17 first class seats.

All the passenger units had, on the right side just before of the back cab, a shutter to charge bigger packages. The restaurant ones instead had, at the back of the aerodynamic cab, a storage place with shutters on each side.

After tests the railcars were put on duty mainly on direct services on the DC wired lines implementing the work of the double-aerodynamic sisters, namely on the Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples-Reggio Calabria axis with various trains on sections thereof, the Rome-Ancona and the tirrenic line from Genoa.
As a curiosity, due to the asymmetric shape and the brown livery like hearthenware these classes were nicknamed "ocarinas", from the musical instrument.
As nearly all the FS light vehicles, during WW2 our railcars were sidelined and after it approximately all vehicles were more or less damaged, some encountered themselves in other nations and other ones simply disappeared.

It follows :wink:
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  by Benny

The repairing of the units was quick, so quick that some units were temporarily put on duty without traction equipment and used as trailers sandwiched between two or three regular units because of the scarce power.
Initially the ocarinas were used, as before the war, for direct services but the coming of new classes and the wave of new wirings made that ALe 790/880/400 were spread all over Italy with the only exceptions of the islands and the Piedmont/western Liguria area and downgraded to local services.
Unfortunately, because of the impossibility of turning (they were more than 27 meters long), the use as single units or idleness by depots staff, many times the units were used with the flat face forward for the "joy" of the driver and an at least questionable aestethic
At the end of the 50s, to increase the seats because of the high patronage, were built 46 driving (Le 640) and 16 non-driving (Le 680) trailers to be coupled with our railcars, that resulted probably the ugliest vehicles of FS: they were an electric version of the Ln 664 trailers for diesel railcars and joined a short boxy shape, an off-center vestibule, a stupid driving cab and a depressing livery in the same project. To increase versatility in the 70/80s Le 680s were transformed into Le 640.
After being used with more modern classes in higher level services, in the middle of the 60s the restaurant cars ALe 400, technically and aestethically outdated, were transformed into normal passenger units with 78 seats forming the new class ALe 781.
In the 70s the three classes were "on the sunset boulevard" but the energetic crisis due to the oil price and the consequent wave of new wirings gave them a second life due to need of electric vehicles, rather some depots, like Cremona, had, as first electric endowment, a lot of forty years old railcars.
Uncomfortable for the modern standards and progressively substituted by younger purpose built vehicles, the ocarinas soldiered on until the beginning of the 90s and were dumped more because of the age than of the unreliability: they were so simple that there were few parts that could malfunction and offered, during the years, firstly an idea of modernity and then an honest service to villages people and commuters.

Images courtesy of:
Photorail.it, probably the best italian site for railroad photography
Stefano Paolini
Donato Rossi
Littorina.net trains,trams and more
Franco Pepe
Fototeca Fiat

Ciao :wink:
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  by Benny
David Benton wrote: Sat May 09, 2020 7:31 pm Thanks Benny , what is a shutter?
I looked for the word on the vocabulary. A sinonymous is roller damper. It can be seen on the first image of the previous post, it's the grey closure just at the back of the nearest cab. It's the same that protect many shops. Hope I explained myself.

Ciao :wink:
  by NorthWest
The blunt ends are definitely not as nice as the streamlined ones.

Older electrics in Italy were sure built well. Lasting that long is impressive.
  by David Benton
Benny wrote: Sat May 09, 2020 7:52 pm
David Benton wrote: Sat May 09, 2020 7:31 pm Thanks Benny , what is a shutter?
I looked for the word on the vocabulary. A sinonymous is roller damper. It can be seen on the first image of the previous post, it's the grey closure just at the back of the nearest cab. It's the same that protect many shops. Hope I explained myself.

Ciao :wink:
ah , ok , I think we would call it a blind , or even curtain. But shutter is correct normally a hinged Door or cover for a window.