In Italy, where distances generally are quite short and the railway system is extensive, traveling by train is generally a pleasant experience. The two main railway companies are Trenitalia and Italo. Trenitalia will get you more or less anywhere where there is a railway station, Italo only serves to the bigger towns.
Railway travel in Italy
Trenitalia and Italo
Trenitalia is the former state railway line. Italo is a private company. When Italo just started out, they were often cheaper than Trenitalia, but nowadays the difference in tariffs is generally negligible. Especially for families, Trenitalia sometimes offers good discounts.
Whatever you do, it is recommended to book well in advance. Also, if you wish to save money, either take very early or very late trains. You can also save money by taking a slow train. However, although you can buy the tickets for the slow trains beforehand, you cannot book a seat.
Bigger railway stations have ticket offices, but lines can be long. Stations in small towns often do not have offices, but you can buy the tickets in the station bar. The smallest stations do not even have those anymore, which means you will either have to use the internet or, when this is not possible, go to the nearest tobacconist, newspaper stand or bar and hope that they can sell you a ticket.
Most stations also have ticket machines. Often these only accept credit cards and quite often they are out of order.
Validating tickets purchased online is not necessary. All other tickets need to be validated before boarding the train. You do this in the yellow machines in either the station halls or on the tracks.
There are overhead racks for your luggage, but if you have big suitcases you will need to store them at the entrance/exit to your carriage. Make sure you keep your valuables with you at all time, though.
The yellow schedules inside the train stations are for the departures, the white ones for the arrivals. The final destinations (for departures) or a departure stations (for arrivals) are indicated in big black bold letters. The bigger intermediate stations are indicated in slightly smaller letters and the smallest stops in normal letters.
The track your train is supposed to depart from or arrive at is listed under bin, which is short for binario, “platform”.
The last bit of information you need to check before buying a ticket is whether your train is listed as feriale or festivo. Feriale trains travel only on weekdays (including Saturday), festivo ones only on Sundays and public holidays. If nothing is indicated, the trains will travel every day of the week.
In case your train is delayed, this will be indicated on the big revolving screens and monitors under rit, for ritardo. A delay may also cause a change of platform, so you always need to keep an eye on the big screens to check if there are any changes. Near the tracks there are also monitors indicating delays and changes of platform.