• The Italian way of railcars

  • 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 David Benton
Thanks for these posts , Benny. It would seem Italy was the pioneer leader of the railcar/Dmu class. I would think Britain was just getting into its first designs at this stage .
  by george matthews
One of the first diesel railcars in Britain was the classic GWR model from the 1930s. I have no idea how many people were in the control position, but as a single vehicle one person only would have been the best arrangement.
  by Benny
David Benton wrote:Thanks for these posts , Benny. It would seem Italy was the pioneer leader of the railcar/Dmu class. I would think Britain was just getting into its first designs at this stage .
It seems me that, with the birth of endothermic engines, wherever there have been strong impulses to railcar development but every builder and every country developed a proper "philosophy". It could be interesting to explore these developments around the world.

Ciao :wink:
  by johnthefireman
Despite the occasonal forerunner, I would say that it was only in the 1950s and '60s that DMUs and single railcars began to proliferate in the UK. EMUs would have been a common sight somewhat earlier, particularly in the southeast of England.
  by george matthews
johnthefireman wrote:Despite the occasonal forerunner, I would say that it was only in the 1950s and '60s that DMUs and single railcars began to proliferate in the UK. EMUs would have been a common sight somewhat earlier, particularly in the southeast of England.
But the GWR classic rail cars were common on their network - at least on the lightly loaded branches. I remember travelling on one, probably for the first time, on the Wye Valley route (now gone) probably about 1943-4.
  by johnthefireman
Thanks, George. I hadn't realised they were so widely used on the GWR.
  by george matthews
johnthefireman wrote:Thanks, George. I hadn't realised they were so widely used on the GWR.
The last one I remember was in the 1950s, used on the branch from Slough to Windsor. It was replaced by British Rail DMUs.There was also a train of about three carriages, with the end ones like a half of the railcar which travelled on the mainline, replacing the usual steam trains. I can't remember when I saw them for the last time - possibly as late as 1959. I think that may well have been a single example of an early diesel train, perhaps brought out when there was a shortage of steam. It was clearly designed by the same team that developed the more common single rail cars.
  by Benny
At the end of the 50s the direct connections between Rome and L' Aquila (capital of the Abruzzo region) as well as the ones between Rome and Campobasso (capital of Molise) were still in the hands of Breda pre-war railcars with low comfort and long journey times (e.g. five hours for the 275 km to Campobasso).
There was the need of more comfortable and powerful cars but the newer classes were not very suitable for the difficult internal lines through the Appennino mountains so OM studied an improved version of its ALn 773.
The body remained the same, with a little improvement to the accessibility and the removal of the two uprights at the corners of the cab, permitting the use of curvy windscreens and bettering very much driver vision and frontal appearance; also the bogies were the same with stiffened suspension to avoid parasite movements due to the increased power.

The small Mantua depot always cooperated with the bigger Verona one. In this image from 1987 we can see ALn 873.3519 waiting to be serviced side by side with ALn 773.3558. It's evident as the fault of the two corner uprights made far more elegant the front end of ALn 873 against the turbocharged cousin.
Photo by Franco Pepe. Mr Pepe is a towerman (as our Phil) and is one of the best Italian railroad photographers. On his site littorina.net you can see thousands of images of various kinds of transport, outside Italy too.
The biggest change was in the engine: as the ALn 773 turbocharged one demonstrated to be so tricky, OM returned to a classic aspired engine, the Saurer SDH, equally with six horizontal cylinders but giving a power of 220 kW so each railcar had a total power of 440 kW, an improvement of 130 kW against the previous ones and, given the different manner of working of the aspired against supercharged engines, it was possible to profit of the full power from a far lower number of revolutions.
The hidraulic gearboxes were changed to a more performing model because of the increased power to transmit but remained conceptually the same.
Fortunately OM abandoned the ridiculous Ln 664s and for this class drawn a new driving trailer with the same body and layout of the motors but without the parcels room, only one cab and a parlor with six seats at the other end.
During the years, the use of the same layout revealed itself as wrong because many times the first class compartment had to be downgraded to accommodate second class people.
Initially were ordered twelve motors, classified as ALn 873.3501-3512, and ten trailers (Ln 779.3501-3510) but during the building stage it became evident that ALn 873s could be useful on sardinian expresses and for the "Versilia arrow" where ALn 773s had big problems because of the slopes and high patronage, so eight more railcars with slight changes were ordered (ALn 873.3513-3520).
It has to be noted the exception to the FS diesel railcars numbering system (that is explained at the beginning of this topic): to differentiate these units from the ALn 773s, having the same number of seats and the same builder, instead of varying the series number (fifth digit, e. g. ALn 773.3601...) FS preferred to change the first digit creating this strange class number.

At first assigned to Rome, Cagliari and Verona depots, they took in charge the fast connections on the triangle Rome-Campobasso-Naples (via Cassino) and began working on the Gran Sasso Arrow Rome-L`Aquila, on the Sardinian Arrow Cagliari-Olbia (connecting with the ferries), on the Turritano Cagliari-Sassari and on the Versilia Arrow Verona/Brescia-Viareggio.
The change to loco-hauled rakes of some trains and the coming of ALn 668s made that, after some years, the entire class was concentrated at Verona with regret of Molise and Sardinia passengers (ALn 668s were far more spartan) and, for their remaining life, ALn 873s were identified with two peculiar services: the Versilia Arrow and a pair of direct trains composed of two sections, each one consisting in a motor and a trailer, that started from Milan, called at Lodi, Cremona and Piadena and arrived at Mantua. Here the two sections separated, with the first one that continued to Verona and the second one that followed to Suzzara, ran all the Ferrovía Suzzara Ferrara (FSF, now part of FER) granted railroad and terminated in Ferrara main station. This strange route was moreover useful to connect the major centers of the agribusiness in northern Italy. This well patronized couple of directs lasted until the retirement of ALn 873s and then became an anonymous Milan-Mantua service made by a push-pull rake.

In a sunny afternoon ALn 873.3513 and its trailer, coming from Verona and direct to Milan, are calling at Mantua station. Here they will be joined by the section from Ferrara (another couple motor+trailer) and the four interconnected elements, offering around 300 seats, will follow as a direct train to the Lombardy capital. Photo by S. Paolini courtesy of Photorail.
Two words also about the other flag train of ALn 873s, the Versilia Arrow.
Versilia is the part of northern Tuscany coast around Viareggio and is a celebrated beach resort. In 1959 FS created a summer connection between Verona and Viareggio through Mantua, Piadena, Parma and Pontremoli. From the following year the terminus was displaced to Pisa and a section from Brescia joined the Verona one at Fornovo after calling at Cremona and Fidenza. After few years the Arrow became all year round.
Because of the non wired stretches Verona-Parma and Brescia Fidenza the train was made from the beginning with ALn 773s but, due to the difficulties on the steeply Fornovo Sarzana, these ones were quickly substituted with the far better performing ALn 873s. The normal turn contemplated two railcars from Verona and a couple railcar+trailer from Brescia (so were needed two pairs of drivers for the entire journey).
After more than twenty years without special news, at mid 80s the Brescia-Fidenza stretch gone completely under the wires so the brescian section was made by EMUs (generally classes ALe 540 or 840) and the Versilia Arrow became an "hybrid" train with electric and diesel traction. But the decadence yet began: after a couple of years the Verona section was limited to Fornovo and passengers had to change. Later the starting point was displaced to Bergamo, the Verona part abolished and what born as a prestigious train is now only a regional one made with an E 464 and MDVE coaches as many more, neither fast nor patronized as its important name suggests.

The two sections of the Versilia Arrow met in Fornovo. From here the complete train was climbing the Pontremolese line on its journey to the sea. In 1982 Mr D. Molino caught the Arrow leaving Fornovo with the engines in full effort. Image from his book "Automotrici ALn 773/873" Locodivision publishing 1983.
Apart these two important trains, ALn 873s made less renowned but useful direct services on the Verona-Mantua-Modena and Brescia-Piadena-Parma.
In the 80s, because of the problems with ALn 773s, our ones started to be used also for stopping services on the Verona-Rovigo-Chioggia and Mantua-Monselice; the front ends were modified with the insertion of uprights, theoretically for safety purposes because plain glasses are stronger than curvy ones but really to avoid the cost of the curvy reinforced glasses; another modification has been the change of the front intercomunicacion doors with more sealing ones, that imposed the disappearing of the OM logo and a bigger vertical rubber band (this change has been requested by drivers). But, with FS always reducing money for stock servicing, railcars with hydraulic gearboxes and old engines became not worth enough and so, at half 90s, the class has been sidelined leaving open field to the sole Fiat ALn 668 and 663 that we will see next time.
A big chapter of Italian railcars history was closing...

Two units have been preserved (ALn 873. 3505+3511) but have been repainted in the original green/white livery and this not compatible with front modifications.

Ciao :wink:
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Last edited by Benny on Thu May 10, 2018 7:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by NorthWest
These cars (and the last ones) all have very nice, clean lines. Thanks.
Removing of curved windows is not uncommon on rolling stock, a bunch of locomotives here have had odd-shaped windows removed.
  by Benny
As told in another thread, ALn 668s have been the biggest success of the railroad division of Fiat, with 800 units between railcars and driving trailers built for FS, 112 for the granted railroads and 644 derived vehicles for railroads in Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey, Argentina, former Jugoslavia, Algeria, Cuba, Sweden and Spain.

In the second half of the 50s FS had various series of modern railcars useful for higher level services but the minor lines with low patronage and passive balance were still in the hands of pre-war littorinas or steam hauled trains.
To drastically reduce costs and improve service it was needed a simple, reliable and cheap vehicle at ease with stopping work on difficult lines, also because government adopted the "dead branches" policy that killed many secondary lines.
Two firms responded to the FS call.
Fiat drawn a railcar powered by two supercharged engines derived from the its road production (203S) with six horizontal cylinders that moved the inner axle of each bogie through a five speed mechanical gearbox. All the main components were oversized and proven by use with other vehicles, so very reliable; instead design and interiors were poor: a boxy body with rounded corners that incased not very comfortable bench seats, a central vestibule and a parcels room at the back of one of the cabs; even, initially the passage between units was reserved to the guards and only after a precise request of FS the bellows were "stuck" on the front ends.
From the first tests the new railcars demonstrated efficiency so eighty units were built and classified ALn 668.1401-1480. The last ten units were built with enclosed bellows and an appearance similar to the following series.
As trailers, being Fiat the owner of OM, were built 32 ridiculous Ln 664s (Ln 664.1401-1432, see the ALn 773 chapter), giving to the complex motor+trailer a really ugly appearance because of the five meters of difference between the two vehicles.

After the first assignments at Bologna, Rome and Mantua, the 1400s became typical of the lines around Fabriano and Rome. In the last one they were employed on the most famous use: the so-called "servizio urbano" or urban service, that connects various parts of the "eternal city" through the railroad belt.
From the 80s some units were also employed by Verona depot and some trailers were adapted to be used with
more recent series in Romagna and Lombardy regions.
With the progress of wiring and the coming of newer railcars, the 1400 series has been phased out (the last ones ceased service in 2001) and some units were sold to private railroads.
Today two railcars run as historical items (ALn 668.1401 and 1451),returned to the primitive ochre and light green livery.

Railway historian C. Pedrazzini caught in 1970 ALn 668.1401,one of the last in the original "colonial yellow" and "lichen green" livery, manoeuvring in the Mantua depot premises.
ALn 668.1421, from Fabriano depot, was instead shooted by S.Paolini at Teramo station in1993 when the branch from Giulianova, on the adriatic line,was still diesel operated.
6681421-200793teramo copia.jpg
The two images courtesy of Photorail, probably the the best italian site for railway photography.

Ciao :wink:
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  by Benny
The other firm that responded to the FS call was Breda, that drawn a railcar similar to the Fiat 1400s in the body and interior but very different in the mechanical part.
Classified as ALn 668.2401-2440, the Breda units were moved by two supercharged D 140 S6H engines in parallel that, through hidraulic joints and a single Wilson gearbox, powered the two axles of a bogie and left the other as a carrying one.
The first thirty railcars too were built without bellows, that were applied later; the last ten units instead born with two front doors that enclosed them.
Contrary to the Fiat ones, no trailers were in the project.

After the test time these units were assigned to Novara and Asti depots where they passed all the career, showing in the first years engines unreliability and bad riding quality.
Used mainly on eastern Piedmont secondary lines, their most important trains were some Biella-Turin directs, a couple of Biella-Milan and a strange Biella-Santhià-Vercelli-Casale-Alessandria-Genoa.
With the freeing of other ALn 668 classes, the problematic Bredas in the first half of the 90s were retired without regrets by railwaymen and passengers.
No units were preserved.

The great railway photographer B. Studer in 1972 caught ALn 668.2427 sleeping in Novara depot surrounded by class 640 steam locomotives, other classic residents of that depot.
Having just arrived from Asti and Casale Monferrato, ALn 668.2434 and 2438 were pictured by S. Paolini in 1992 at the dead track of Mortara station. As you can see this subseries has two doors in the front ends that protect the closed bellows. note also the old daylight tail-of-the-train sign, with diagonal white and red stripes.
The two images courtesy of Photorail, probably the best italian site for railway photography.

Ciao :wink:
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  by NorthWest
They do look similar. Interesting that they seem to keep running into reliability issues building railcars... you'd think they'd figure out the problems eventually?

Thanks for keeping this string going!
  by Benny
Sorry, my friend. I don't understand your last question; can you explain me using other words please?

Ciao :wink:
  by Benny
Given the good reliability results of the ALn 668.1400s, FS in the first half of the 60s ordered another batch. Fiat upgraded the project basing the new railcars on the body of last subseries of the previous ones, strenghtened and with a third light on top of the front ends, but substituted the engines with the aspired 221H model, still from the road production and so well tested. The change wanted to avoid the expensive maintenance of the turbocharger compensating it with an increase in dispacement so the new engines were calibrated to 115 kw instead of the 110 of the 1400s.
The transmission too was substituted; the new series, classified as ALn 668.1501-1575, was equipped with Wilson gearboxes, that were typical of the Breda know-how. This strange resolution was merely political: to give work to Breda, that was beginning to have financial problems, Fiat had to subcontract to the competitor the building of 25 railcars and accept to install in an own product a component from Breda.
As in the previous series, Fiat produced some driving trailers to meet with the railcars. This ones, Ln 882.1501-1523, had the same body of the motors, only one driving cab (this time occupying the entire front end) and no parcels room.

The first elements were assigned to Asti depot, not far from the Turin Fiat factory, and later to Cremona, Pavia and Catania (only railcars because of the slopes in the inner Sicily lines) where passed all their operating life on local services. The strangest duty was probably a Cuneo-Cavallermaggiore-Asti-Casale-Mortara -Milan Porta Genova pair of semi-direct trains.
At the end of the 90s transmissions became very weared, also because of the trailers weight, and because of the cuts at local trains they started to be dumped; the last ones worked until 2007.

ALn 668.1546 is leaving Catania central station during a stopping service on the difficult innner lines in 1997. In the background a ferry to the continent.
In 1994 ALn 668.1555 and Ln 882.1521 are waiting the crossing train in the small station of San Giovanni in Croce, on the Piadena-Parma stretch.
Ln 882s have been the last trailers built for FS railcars; as they wear too much engines and transmissions, later were built only powered units.
The two images by S. Paolini courtesy of Photorail

Ciao :wink:
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  by NorthWest
Oh, sorry. It seems that these builders keep having the same problems- bad transmissions, unreliable engines, etc. I know the reputation that Italian machinery has, but it seems odd that they still kept making the same errors.
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