- NTV is Italy's first high-speed rail company not run by the state
- The company's Italo service has been nicknamed the "Ferrari train"
- "High-speed trains the future of Europe," says NTV chairman
As chairman of Ferrari, Luca di Montezemolo is used to making things that move at breakneck speed. But rather than flashy sports cars for wealthy motor enthusiasts, the Italian businessman's latest high-velocity project aims to cater for the traveling masses.
The Italo train from NTV -- a passenger rail company of which di Montezemolo is also chairman -- is a high-speed service that has been dashing between Milan, Rome and other major Italian cities since April.
With its dark red color scheme, streamlined shape and speeds as fast as a formula-one car, everyone's calling Italo the "Ferrari train." A cinema carriage, free Wi-Fi access throughout the train, and luxury leather seats all add to the high-performance, luxury theme. But Italo is intended to be affordable and accessible to all consumers.
Both Italo and state-run rival Trenitalia currently have promotional offers, but Trenitalia's flexible standard tickets from Rome to Milan start from $107 and go up to $200, whereas flexible standard tickets from Rome to Milan on Italo range from $110 to $163.
"Our idea was to do a train for everybody," di Montezemolo says.
He believes rail is the best way to travel in Europe and sees the emergence of NTV as a sign of rail renaissance. "There are other trains in Europe but for me high-speed train will be the future of Europe," he says.
While Italy has had high-speed trains since the late 1970s, NTV is the country's first rail operator not run by the state. Montezemolo and his consortium of partners, including French state rail company SNCF, have invested €1 billion ($1.2 billion) in NTV, breaking Trenitalia's monopoly.
But Trenitalia was ready for Italo's arrival. It has spent $100 million upgrading the interiors of its Frecciarossa trains and introduced free Wi-Fi. It welcomes a new high-speed player and is prepared to fight for every customer.
"It's an opportunity for the consumer," says Trenitalia's Emanuele Carando. "It's an opportunity for us to really demonstrate the power of Trenitalia and Frecciarossa ... and I think our numbers are really unbeatable. We are the first high-speed train in Italy ... we served 25 million consumers in the last year and I think our numbers are unbeatable."
Cameron Jones, vice president of rail industry technology specialists SilverRail, agrees that competition in the sector can benefit the consumer.
"Privatization and competition drives more efficient businesses," he says. "With more efficient businesses those benefits and savings can be passed on to customers. So service gets better, product gets better and pricing gets better."
The expansion of other rail operators across Europe is having a similar effect, says Jones.
"Competition is driving a customer approach to rail ... and not just in Italy," he says. "We can see that with (German rail company) Deutsche Bahn announcing they're coming into London to compete with Eurostar. Eurostar has invested £700 million in upgrading their entire fleet and adding 10 new trains in the fleet."
Italo hopes to have 25% of Italy's market by 2014, and di Montezemolo doesn't rule out expanding beyond the country's borders.
"It's too early to think outside of Italy but I think this will be the future," he says.
Ayesha Durgahee is the resident reporter on CNN's Business Traveller. Follow Ayesha on Twitter at @AyeshaCNN.