Taking the train
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Just like all European nations, Italy has a great railroad network and an extensive fast train system with very frequent departures (for instance from the central station in Rome "Termini" to Florence there are more than 50 departures a day!) The system is such that conceivably you could travel all over Italy just by train. Check out train schedules on the TreniItalia great website (in english). Note this link will direct you to the new TreniItalia website.
Be aware of the following:
  1. There are several types of train, regional, intercity, etc. classified based on how quickly they travel between the major train stations (and how many stops they make along the way).

  2. You do NOT need a reservation to take a train. A reservation would only ensure you have a seat assigned.

  3. Mostly, reservations are for seats in first class. Some fast trains (e.g. Frecciarossa) have mandatory reservations for 2nd class as well. Check them out. Reservations can be done a few days in advance if so desired.

  4. In general, there is NO need to buy a train ticket in advance (and pay a surcharge). You can simply purchase one at a station, and, if there is a line up, use the automatic vending machines (see below).

  5. Before departing for Italy, and if you know when you will be taking a train, you could by a ticket online.

  6. When you take the train, and you are going long distances, you may want to consider spending a few more euros and travel in "first" class when available. That simply means that you will have a reserved seat (it is worth for long trips and between major destinations).

  7. When you have the ticket, make sure you validate it on one of the small yellow validating machine that are everywhere in train stations. When the train is moving, a ticket inspector will most likely check everyone's ticket, and if yours has not been validated, you will be paying a fine..... It is simple......Remember: The ticket you have purchased is not valid UNLESS validated BEFORE stepping on the train. It is still surprising and sad that many tourists are left with a bad memory of Italy simply because they did not go through the very simple step of validating their ticket before stepping on a train and hence ended up paying a steep fine (pun intended).
Buying train tickets
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As mentioned above, there is NO need to buy a train ticket in advance (and possibly pay a surcharge). And, if you are not on a very tight train travel schedule through Italy, you don't have to scramble to buy tickets on the TreniItalia website using a NA credit card (which may or or may not be accepted, even with the new TreniItalia website).

You can simply purchase a ticket at a station the same day you travel. Unless you are travelling on a very busy holiday day, there will be lots and lots of room on the train (at worst you may not find a seat). If you are travelling between major destinations (say Rome, Naples, Florence, Milan, etc.), and if you are taking a fast train that indeed may require a reservation, then I would suggest you go to the station a few hrs earlier or even the previous day

If there is a line up or you feel uncomfortable in talking to a ticket agent that may not speak fluent English, you can easily use the ubiquitous automatic ticket machines that are found even in most small communities train stations. HOWEVER, be aware of scam artists that may volunteer to "help you".

These machines are easy to use: select a language (the machine will talk to you), select departure station and arrival (may have to type name if travel to a small town), select time/train, and then a method of payment. I recommend you pay with a credit card so you can have a receipt just in case the machine messes up (never seen that happen, but it could).

Note: In large train stations, such as the one in Rome,
Italy train Biglietteria automatica and line-ups
you will find plenty of automatic ticket machines. Some are within a glass enclosure for added privacy. Observe in the attached picture (click to enlarge) the huge line up for the ticket counter and how how little use the adjacent ticket machines are getting. Unless you need to change tickets or have other more "involved" ticket refunds and such, you don't need to waste time in a line up.

One more tip: In Rome (I presume in other major centres as well), if you only want to ask a question to clarify some item, there is a specific office nearby the ticket counters that can help you. Usually there is no line up. Be aware that office won't issue or exchange tickets. It always amazes me how many tourists spend lots of time lining up to a ticket counter just to ask a question!
Finding train schedule and selecting departure platform
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You have decided to take the train, but would like to figure out schedules. If you have access to the Internet, the TreniItalia website is a great resource. If you don't have Internet, you can head to the train station and look at the large posters with arrivals and departures.

The schedule on these posts is printed in small font size and, since there are numerous arrivals or departures, it can be confusing. It may also be difficult to determine whether a specific train you are interested in is running that day (that is something to keep in mind for particularly for regional trains (e.g. travel between smaller communities). These are the situations where, if there is no line-up, I would advise to ask the person behind the ticket counter (and like in every country or cities in the world hopefully you will find a very helpful individual and not an obnoxious one!).

The arrivals/departures posters will also show the number of the
Rome Termini
platform ("binario") where the train arrives or departs from. However, be sure to check on the real-time electronic boards to confirm the number of the platform. The platform may have changed. Note that, in large stations, the electronic boards may show arrival/departures times, but not the number of the platform until the train is available for boarding or its arrival platform has been confirmed.

As you can see in the detailed picture of the electronic board in Rome (
click on the picture to enlarge it), the trains are identified by their type (i.e. REGional,
Rome Termini detail
InterCity, EuroStar, etc.), their a number, and the final station (i.e. the last stop). Do not get confused by that.

The board may NOT necessarily show the city you are going to. For example, the IC 588 in the picture will stop in 12 stations (including Orvieto, Bologna, etc.), the EuroStar 9373 will stop in 9 stations (including Naples) before reaching Reggio, etc. TIP: Look at the train number on your ticket (or schedule) to determine the departure/arrival platform.