Alex Massie

But at least the trains ran on time...

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Megan on the horrors of travelling in the United States these days:

You know, I never really understood why making the trains run on time was so important for Mussolini, but after last week, I can understand how that became one of fascism's main selling points.

She kids, of course. I've always thought, however, that improvements to the reliability of the Italian train service improved after Mussolini came to power were as much due to changes in timetabling as actual efficiency gains. In other words, by officially giving the trains more time to reach their destination they had a better chance of actually getting there on time even if the journey took as long as it did in the bad old days of a useless, inefficient service*. Psychologically this is doubtless a sound policy - reducing passenger frustration - but it also seems appropriate that even Mussolini's signature "achievement" was, like the rest of his regime, ridiculous and fraudulent.

Still, it's a tactic that has been copied by the airlines these days. I'm pretty certain that 15 years ago the Edinburgh to London shuttle was timetabled at a zippy 50-55 minutes or so. No longer: the congestion at Heathrow has, I think, pushed the official flight-time out to 75 or 80 minutes  - which means that occasionally a flight can actually be said to have landed "early"...

*Now that I type this, mind you, I find myself unable to recall when or how I first came across this notion of Mussolini's timetabling creativity. Is it even true? I would very much like it to be accurate - heck, it should be true - but a cursory googling is not especially helpful. Can anyone help?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietyitalytravel