This information on the wheelchair accessibility of Italian trains was researched on our trip in Summer 2022
I found Italians trains to be great–they were quiet, smooth, fast, and reliable. Their wheelchair spaces were spacious, and the bathrooms onboard were accessible. We were so impressed with the train system that we added two impromptu day trips to Venice and Lake Como–both by train and both very accessible.
I write separately about Milan’s public transportation system, which was not as good as Italy’s train system.
Booking accessible spaces and services on Italian trains is basically 4 steps:
- Identify wheelchair accessible stations to begin/end your journey
- Contact Sala Blu to request services and spaces
- Purchase the tickets
- Show up at the Sala Blu locations as directed (typically at least 30 minutes prior to departure)
I break down each of these steps further below, but please don’t be daunted by the amount of text–it may look like a lot of steps, but it is an easy process to master. In short, the wheelchair accessibility of Italian trains was excellent.
General Wheelchair Accessibility Information
Italy’s RFI website for people with disabilities is dedicated to providing relevant timely information for people traveling with a disability. The website has tabs for information on accessibility at different stations, how to arrange for assistance, and even outlines the efforts Italy is making to create more barrier-free train stations.
The most helpful tool on this homepage is the searchable map at the bottom. You can search by city or region (or just zoom in on the interactive map) to find the location of the station as well as a list of all accessible features at that station.
Requesting Wheelchair Services
Sala Blu is the centralized system for booking wheelchair assistance for most (if not all) trains, regardless of the company operating the train (e.g., Trenitalia, Trenord, international trains, etc.). Sala Blu provides free assistance for the following:
– meeting passengers at the station at the agreed meeting point or, for incoming passengers, at their seat on board the train,
– meeting passengers to the station to collect their tickets, if applicable,
– accompanying passengers on board the departing train to their assigned seats or from the arriving train to the station exit or, for those continuing their journey, on board another train,
– providing, on request, a wheelchair for accompanying passengers to/from the train at the station,
– boarding and alighting the train by means of a forklift for passengers on wheelchairs,
– a hand luggage service (1 piece of luggage) if required.
Sala Blu has 15 offices, and each office oversees/coordinates the accessibility services at the train stations in its respective region that offer accessible services.
Step 1: Confirm the beginning and end train stations are accessible
Use the interactive map at the bottom of the RFI website for people with disabilities to locate the train stations that offer wheelchair accessible services on your desired route. You can contact Sala Blu if you are in doubt or cannot find a suitable train station (see below).
Tip: It seems obvious, but always confirm the train stations are accessible before purchasing a ticket. We purchased a Trenord ticket from Milano Centrale to Varenna and were then told by Sala Blu that Varenna was not an accessible stop. Trenord refused to refund or exchange our tickets (even though we physically could not use them), and so we had to buy new tickets from Milano Centrale to Colico. It was a relatively cheap lesson, but still drove home that mistakes can happen. Thankfully, Sala Blu caught it before we traveled and helped us shift to an accessible itinerary.
Step 2: Contact Sala Blu to Confirm Itinerary and Space on the Train
You can contact any of the Sala Blu offices at your beginning, end, or transfer stations to help arrange for assistance. And you only need to contact one of them–that one Sala Blu office will coordinate assistance at all of your stops. As such, locate the Sala Blu that oversees each of your stations by finding your desired stations in the list of stations. All of the stations overseen by a particular Sala Blu office are listed to the right of the Sala Blu office. So, you just need to find the station on the right, and then look at which Sala Blu office is listed at the far left. And the e-mail address for that region’s Sala Blu is in the middle of the chart.
Once you locate the Sala Blu offices responsible for your stations, you can e-mail any of those Sala Blu offices to set up accessible services. They request that you e-mail at least 12 business hours (48 hours for international) in advance of your trip, although certain “fast stations” only require 1 business hour’s notice. You need to provide the following information in your e-mail:
- the departure, arrival or connecting stations;
- the round trip dates with the preferred time slots or the desired train;
- the type of assistance requested (with or without forklift/elevator, with wheelchair made available by RFI, other useful information);
- a telephone number where, if necessary, the customer can be contacted in time to organize the trip.
You can e-mail in English, and they will typically respond in English (or you can use Google translate). They will confirm that the accessible services are organized, and assign you wheelchair accessible seats in the correct coach on the train. If no seats are left, they will help you find another train that has open accessible seats.
We took the train from Nice, France to Milan, Italy, and had to transfer trains in Ventimiglia, Italy. As such, we learned that Ventimiglia was part of Genova Sala Blu, and that Milano Centrale was part of Milano Sala Blu. We could then e-mail either of those Sala Blu offices to arrange services in Ventimiglia and Milan (and, as it turned out, in Nice, France, although I would suggest confirming services at the out-of-country stop). I found that the bigger, more metropolitan Sala Blu’s were faster to respond, so I typically e-mailed Milano.
PLEASE NOTIFY SALA BLU IF YOU CANCEL YOUR PLANS. This conserves resources so Sala Blu personnel are not showing up for passengers using wheelchairs who are not present or, worse yet, are trying to figure out where the person in the wheelchair is on the train (or if they are on another train).
Step 3: Purchase the Tickets
Typically, you purchase the tickets after Sala Blu confirms that your desired stations are accessible, that there are open wheelchair spaces, and that the services are organized. Once purchased, e-mail the tickets (or the confirmation) to Sala Blu on the same thread as the confirmed wheelchair services discussion–this will ensure they match up the tickets to the services, or they can re-issue tickets if they need to change your seating location.
Tip: You can purchase your desired tickets either before or after you confirm with Sala Blu. The benefit to purchasing after Sala Blu confirms availability is you know the trip will work–you know there is space for your wheelchair, that the stations are accessible, and that the services are organized. But you can also purchase the tickets beforehand, and just forward the tickets to Sala Blu at the same time you are requesting services. They can then coordinate everything with one e-mail response. I also noticed that I received a faster response from Sala Blu by purchasing the tickets and then requesting accessible services–they had something concrete on which to act, rather than hypothetical questions about an upcoming trip.
But booking your ticket before confirming accessibility risks risk booking a ticket for an inaccessible station or on a train that has no vacant wheelchair spaces. I ran into that issue when I booked a trip from Milano Centrale to Varenna on Lake Como. Sala Blu informed me Varenna was not accessible, and that I could only go to Colico or Lecco. I then had to purchase new tickets and ate the cost of the original tickets because Trenord originally refused to refund them. I later filed a request for refund online, and Trenord refunded the original tickets a few months later. Thank you to Trenord for making it right.
Step 4: Show up at the Sala Blu locations as directed (typically at least 30 minutes prior to departure)
You need to check-in at the Sala Blu office at least 30 minutes prior to your departure time. For my stations, the Sala Blu locations were marked with multiple signs around each train station, and there were blue strips on the floor that led to the Sala Blu rooms from the trains and from the entrance of the station. There may be multiple Sala Blu locations (e.g., the main office in the terminal vs. a large sign on a different level), so be sure to read the confirmatory e-mail closely for the correct location. If in doubt, you can e-mail Sala Blu and they will provide written directions to the location.
Tip: I suggest asking the people assisting you off the train to show you where the Sala Blu is located. That way you know where it is when you need to leave the next time, which helps when you are inevitably in a time crunch for a departure (e.g., your espresso, fresh orange juice, and croissant order takes longer than expected).
Sala Blu makes the wheelchair accessibility of Italian trains easy and reliable.