Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews

main index   © Jeff Matthews  entry Feb 2008

The Circumvesuviana Railway

As a point of interest, a portion of the Circumvesuviana railway line in Naples runs along the same stretch as did the first railway in Italy. That line was opened from Naples to Portici on October 2, 1839. It proved to be a popular novelty and also a good way for the king, Ferdinand II, to get from Naples out to his other palace in Portici, today the site of the Agriculture department of the University of Naples.

In those days, of course, you couldn’t really go anywhere by train. If you wanted to go from Naples out to one of the towns around Vesuvius or along the coast to Pompei and then along the Sorrentine peninsula, that was a pretty tough coach—and even horseback—ride in parts, particularly along the cliffs approaching Sorrento. If you really wanted to go from Naples to Sorrento, the practical way was by boat.

The Circumvesuviana is one of the two busy narrow-gauge railways that provide important service in Naples. (The other is the Cumana line that serves the area to the west (that is, towards Cuma). Transportation to the east into the densely populated towns around Vesuvius would be unthinkable without the Circumvesuviana. The Circumvesuviana railway currently has almost 200 stations along 138 Km (86 miles) of tracks.

The original company was called the Società Anonima Ferrovia Nola Ottaviano; it inaugurated service on February 9, 1891, from Naples to Ottaviano, a single narrow-gauge track for a stretch of some 23 km (14 miles), using steam locomotives. In the first decade of the 20th century, service was extended towards Sarno, and a new stretch started to move out along the coast towards Pompei and from Torre Annunziata inland towards Poggiomarino, thus encircling Vesuvius, putting the “Circum-” in Circumvesuviana. At that stage, there were 64 km (40 miles) of track serving 23 towns with a total of some 300,000 persons (excluding the population of Naples, proper). The line carried about 3 million passengers a year.

Main station in Naples

The first electrified stretch was in 1905 from Naples to Pompei and Poggiomarino. The First World War put a stop to further modernization, but by 1926 the entire railway was electric and transporting 6 million passengers a year. In the 1930s, work continued on the line towards Sorrento and by 1934 extended to Castellammare di Stabia. In 1936 the company expanded by acquiring and incorporating another smaller, secondary railway that had run between Naples and Baiano. The Second World War and an eruption of Vesuvius in 1944 stopped work on the Circumvesuviana. Postwar construction included the difficult 10 km tunnel from Castellammare to Vico Equense on the way to Sorrento; the line was completed to Sorrento in 1948. Modernization since that time has including continuous upgrading of engines, coaches and station facilities, as well as “doubling” the line along almost the entire length. (The Circumvesuviana also runs the cable-car from Castellammare di Stabia up to the top of Mt. Faito.)

Sooner or later, the Circumvesuviana (and the Cumana) will link into the vast Naples metropolitana subway line (which should be finished by about the time that “beaming” around the galaxy becomes feasible, thus rendering travel by choo-choo obsolete).


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