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Train Strikes in Italy: How to Prepare & What to Do

The trains in Italy are absolutely my favorite way to get around. They aren’t always the best option, but when they are I’ll choose the train every time. One problem, however, with being so biased toward a single mode of transportation is that when an Italian train strike pops up I’m prone to a bit more discombobulation than I probably should be – which is why I’m everso glad the Italians schedule their strikes in advance.
Yep, you read that right – Italian transportation strikes are scheduled.
Despite this, an Italian transport strike can catch travelers off-guard. We don’t typically have access to the schedules in the same way Italians do, since we don’t read Italian newspapers or speak Italian well enough to decipher the strike schedules online. There are a few resources that will help you figure out if an Italian train strike will impact your trip, and it never hurts to check them before you head off to the airport.
>> Note: The Italian word for “strike” is “sciopero,” pronounced SHO-per-oh – so be on the lookout for that word in Italian newspaper headlines to be alerted to a strike when you’re traveling!

Reading Italian Transportation Strike Schedules

The best site to use for tracking Italian transportation strikes is only available in Italian. My friend Madeline at Italy Beyond the Obvious did a spectacular job of breaking down how to read the website to find the information you need, even if you don’t speak any Italian at all, so I recommend checking out her post on the topic. There’s also a site that’s in English, but far less comprehensive – click on “Italian strikes” to get to the Italy section.
The Trenitalia site has a section on the law regarding providing “essential services” during strikes, which explains that even during a strike Trenitalia “guarantees minimum transport services.” This means strikes don’t halt every single train – during the peak hours of 6-9am and 6-9pm Monday-Saturday, there’s a limited schedule of trains that will continue to run. These trains, as you can imagine, get sold out quickly – so if you want to travel on a strike day, book a ticket on one of these trains ASAP.
You can search for and book Italian train tickets using the Rail Ticket Search tool at the top of this page.
For those of you who speak Italian (or can muddle your way through it), there’s even an Italian iPhone app that gives you updated information about transportation strikes in Italy. It’s called Alerti Scioperi Trasporto.

What to Do if There’s an Italian Transport Strike When You’re in Italy

Strikes are meant to be disruptive, so the fact that you’re not an Italian taxpayer or government official doesn’t have any bearing on whether a strike will impact you. In other words, you’ll need to deal with transportation strikes the same way the locals do – by working around them.
The best thing you can do is check the strike schedule before your trip to see whether there’s a strike planned for a day when you need to travel. If you see a strike on one of your travel days, you’ll have a chance to alter your travel plans – stay an extra day in a city, or leave a day early – to avoid the strike. If you can’t change your plans, then you’ll have time to figure out alternate transportation. Just remember that you’re not the only one who’ll be hunting for another way to get from place to place, so make your alternate arrangements well in advance or you’ll find they’re sold out. Also, as mentioned above, you can try to get a ticket and reservation on one of the “peak hour” trains that is most likely to run even on strike days. (But don’t be surprised if there are complications with those trains, too.)
The worst case scenario is that you arrive at the train station and it’s only then that you find out there’s a strike going on. This is one of the times when you’ll earn your stripes as a traveler who can make decisions on the fly! You won’t be the only person in line at the train station, so have patience, consider all your options for traveling either the next day (check the departure schedule so you’re prepared with your train options when you’re finally able to talk to someone) or by another method (is there a bus? can you rent a car?), and remember there are far worse problems to have.
photo by Alex E. Proimos