Crossing to Sicily on Europe’s last Train Ferry Trenitalia’s InterCity notte from Rome to Palermo

General Information

The InterCity notte 1975 night train runs from Rome Termini station via Naples to Palermo with course cars to Catania. The journey takes just under 13 HRS – two hours less to Catania. In the early morning hours the cars are shunted onto a ferry that crosses the Strait of Medina (crossing time is just some 20 mins.). This is actually the last train connection in europe that uses that train/ship combination.

There is no general seating on this train and each passenger has to buy either a couchette or sleeper compartment. Four-berth couchettes, called COMFORT, are the least expensive category featuring compartments with two stacked berths to either side of a small aisle. You can book either a berth or have the full compartment to your group (if travelling with a minumum of three persons, I believe).

What sells as economy or 2nd class sleeper on most european train operators is called DELUXE here and consists of sleeper compartments with room for three beds and a small washbasin.

Both COMFORT and DELUXE carriages have shared toilets at each end, yet no showers.

1st class sleepers, or EXCELSIOR in Trenitalia-lingo, make up only a small part of the train. Here each compartment has its own ensuite shower and toilet.

Tickets

Tickets are best bought directly through FS Trenitalia’s website, which is easy enough to navigate. There is an English version, yet some of the options in the drop-down menus remain Italian. Most notably, the accomodation categories are untranslated, so here’s some important vocabulary:
vagone letto = sleeping car
vagone cuccette = sleeperette car
cabina intera = private compartment

For this trip during easter 2022 a one-way ticket from Rome to Palermo for two adults and a child in a private DELUXE compartment came to 188,80 € (booked about two months ahead). This included the basic train fare, sleeping car supplements and a light breakfast.

During booking you have to enter a passport or ID-card number. These were checked by the guard upon boarding, so be sure to take the correct documents with you!

Trip Report (April 2022)

After a few eventful days in the most magnificent city of the universe, Rome that is, we were heading to Roma Termini Station for a convenient evening departure. Unlike other night trains that have you board around midnight and throw you off at 05:48, the ICN 1975 leaves at a leisurely time (20:31), giving you a full extra day to explore the wonders of Rome. If you have some time to kill before departure, head upstairs to the mezzanine level where a few bars sit right on top of the concourse, so you can watch trains come and go sipping on a Negroni or a splash of Crodino.

The final track assignment came rather late (about 20 MINS before departure) but there was no rush necessary, as the station is not too big. When the train pulled in, I could not help but admire the stylish colour scheme in midnight blue. I enjoy a classic engine and carriage trainset, as most trains nowadays are power car driven sets.

Trenitalia uses classic MU sleeper cars on this route which hail back all the way to the mid-1960ies when they were produced by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits and formed the backbone of the european TEN-pool of night train rolling stock.

Our train was drawn by, ehm, a locomotive. I know how negligent this is in the eye of all train afficianados, but our daughter was v e r y nervous not to miss the train and literaly dragged me on board, so I could not manage to note the designation. Most likely it was an E 464.

Once aboard, we settled into our compartment. Seats were comfortable and later turned into equally comfortable beds.

There is no option to check any luggage so you have to bring all your bags into your compartment. Storage for the three of us thus was somewhat limited. While we had no problems putting away three medium-sized bags, our one suitcase, which also is not terribly large, would not fit under the bed and took up a lot of floor space. I you can, avoid hard framed luggage on this sort of train altogether.

After we settled in, the sleeper car attendant brought water bottles and overnight kits (there even were male/female versions) and asked us about our drinks preferences for breakfast.

Pulling out of Rome the ICN picked up speed quickly and dashed south towards Naples. As it was still early in the year, night had fallen already so there was not much to see while we had a dinner of tramezzini and Birra Moretti.

There is no dining car on this service and also no snack trolley, so pack a picnic.

Word of Warning

Our compartment had plenty of power outlets including USB plugs. WIFI, however, is unavailable and the coverage along the route can be spotty.

An hour out of Naples we asked the attendant to turn down the middle berth and turned in, but catching sleep proved difficult, as the compartment was unbelievably hot and stuffy. I asked the attendant, if he could turn the heating down which proved to be impossible. He explained to me that it was centrally controlled (and that he did not really care, btw). After that we tried leaving the window open a little (LOUD and with an strobe show from outside lights that can start epileptic seisures), so in the end we kept the window open a little and pulled the blind down, which might have caused a little collateral damage (not quite sure, but I saw wire dangling in the morning, that was not there the night before).

Another nightly disturbance occured when the train was shunted on the ferry in Villa San Giovanni early in the morning. The train is split and pushed onto the ferry boat to cross the strait of medina, which takes about 20 mins. On this particular night the seas were rather choppy.

The ICN then continues on Sicilian tracks and it takes another four hours to complete the journey to Palermo. Waking up to the vista of mediterranean beaches basking in the morning sun made up for the shortage of sleep during the night and the nice continental breakfast – with great italian coffee – helped as well.

Arrival at Palermo terminus is sheduled at 09:24, so there is plenty of time to pack up everything and get ready for the day. The station is located south of Palermo’s downtown and most sight and hotels are in walking distance.

There yet! Arriving at Palermo Centrale after 13 HRS on the ICN 1975 night train.

There is a staffed left-luggage facility near track #4.

Summary

I believe it’s called microadventure and as such it was a fun and inspiring way to reach Sicily which also spared us a domestic flight. Next time, however, we’ll probably take a day train to enjoy more of the scenery and avoid sweating through another night in Trenitalia’s comfortable sauna.

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