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.
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