Riding on a steam train at Lake Trasimeno

150 years Terontola-Foligno railway line, Umbria, Italy

Steam locomotove FS 685 at the train station of Perugia-Fontivegge
Steam locomotove FS 685 at the train station of Perugia-Fontivegge


Perugia train station, a Sunday afternoon in November:

At first, a cloud of dark gray smoke appears at the end of the railway tracks. Then we can hear the pounding and hissing of the steam locomotive. The imposing monster and the waggons enter the train station and fill the platform with steam, smoke and smoke.

The firemen shovel the last coals and then climb down from their operating floor, under the hooting of the spectators. Children in Sunday clothes are photographed together with the sooty men.
Railway enthusiasts discuss the advantages of the legendary FS 685 steam locomotive from the 1920s. It once was the flagship of the Italian railway fleet, and only two are still fit to drive.

Steam train Perugia-Terontola, Nov 6, 2016. Video: REM Professional Filmmakers
In the waiting room

The train has already mastered the difficult ascent from Foligno to Perugia and needs a break. The huge belly of the locomotive has to be filled with water.

We patiently sit in the waiting room of the train station. It has seen its best years long ago. The Art Deco painting is crumbling from the walls, the elaborate floor mosaic has big holes.

In a corner, a couple of men play cards, elderly ladies rummage in their handbags and drink tea from a thermos jug.

Wagon "Centoporte", built in 1928
Wagon "Centoporte", built in 1928

And then we can finally get on board.

Five historic wagons "Centoporte" (hundred doors) built in 1928, with a door for each compartment.

Inside neatly polished wooden seats, velvet curtains, luggage racks and lamps in the Art Nouveau style.

In the train


On the walls yellowed pictures of once fashionable travel destinations and reproductions of the great works of Italian art.


I am looking for a sign "Do not pick flowers when the train is moving" which, according to my father's stories, could be found in old trains.
I do not find such a sign, but I see the familiar warnings in four languages - "Do not lean out of the window - Non sporgersi dalla finestra". I remember traveling by train as a child and trying to decipher the foreign-language instructions.
Riding on a train as a first foretaste of the big wide world.


We chose the last car, and for a while we are all alone there. At this moment a heavy shower pours down on Perugia, pattering on the roof of the car. The train station and everything around it seems to disappear. We sit quietly and devoutly as if removed from the present and carried back into bygone times. We try to imagine who has been sitting on these wooden benches over the decades, what stories may have happened here.

150 years railway line Terontola-Foligno
The train station of Terontola in the 1920s. Photo: Lestradeferrate.it
The train station of Terontola in the 1920s. Photo: Lestradeferrate.it

The Terontola-Perugia railway line was inaugurated in December 1866, allowing the first direct connection from Florence to Rome. It was part of the most important north-south route of Italy.

There was much pomp at the inauguration and the hope of a long-lasting economic boom for Umbria.

Ten years later, however, the direct railway line from Terontola to Chiusi was opened. Rome could thus be reached without the detour via Perugia, which is situated too far east.
The capital of Umbria was now off the main connecting route and fell back into its provincial slumber.

Intoxicating speed


The rain stops and the train sets in motion with loud roar. Of course, we keep our heads out of the window - against the warning signs - and are immediately enveloped by steam and soot.

It is an intoxicating feeling, the wind blowing into my face,   the smell of smoke and damp earth in my nose.

And the train is going fast, much faster than I had imagined. No chance "to pick flowers during the trip"! The ride from Perugia to Terontola only takes about an hour, almost the same time as in a modern train.



The late afternoon sun comes through the clouds.

Umbrian autumn landscape, the yellow leaves in the vineyards, the silvery green of the olive groves, the pale brown of freshly plowed fields.

Then Lake Trasimeno is suddenly lying in front of us, after the "curved" tunnel of Magione. Supposedly the engineers had made a mistake when drilling from both sides and a small "bend" had to be installed in the center of the tunnel.

Sunbeams touch the surface of the lake. Over the islands the clouds glow in all shades of color. Migratory birds burst asunder out of the reeds. At crossings and small train stations people are waving.




The twilight has already subsided when we reach the train station of Terontola. We alight through one of the "hundred doors" - and are back again   into the present.

Our faces and hair are covered with a thin layer of soot. Now we understand why in former times the first question after a train ride was " Would you like to freshen up after the journey?"

Yes, we want to "freshen up" and wash the soot from our faces.

But what remains is a wonderful memory of a journey through time!


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