Milan, Italy Interurbans

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Milan interurbans no. 89 & 122 on the Désio Line at Désio. Photo by Richard Panse, May 2008.


Up in the northern and northwestern corners of Milan lie the two remaining interurban tramways from a once-extensive, but disparate, network. These are the two lines to Désio and Limbiate. They exist as somewhat of a curiosity, and are not connected with the general ATM fare structure, as separate "biglietti" are required for all suburban bus and tram routes. As such, some folks consider these lines "stepchildren". Yet they still carry many riders daily.

Until April 18, 1999, interurbans from both lines entered the city, terminating at a small yard in Via Valtellina, briefly sharing tracks with Line 3 trams. The Valtellina terminal was fairly close to Stazione Garibaldi and Cimitero Monumentale. During the daytime, some interurbans were stabled at nearby Deposito Messina. That all changed as of that date, and the portions of both routes within the city limits were abandoned, with the Désio line terminating at Via Papa Giovanni XXIII, and the Limbiate line cut back to Affori. Service on the short Cusano-Milanino branch off the Désio line was abandoned outright, but the tracks are still in place. Rails and wire have been removed from portions of the in-town segment of the Limbiate line along congested Via Imbonati/Via Pellegrino Rossi, on account of construction of an extended Metropolitana M3. However, the now-trackway along the in-town portion of the Désio route, which featured some gauntlet track operation in some locations, was rebuilt to become Metrotramvia Nord used by city tram routes 4 and 5, and a new inner terminal at Parco Nord features connecting tracks. Metrotramvia Nord opened for service on December 8, 2003. There are plans to run the city routes further toward Désio and possibly beyond the depot, and the Milanino branch may get reactivated. Although the two lines are now isolated from each other, a new connection via some as-yet-undetermined route may get built. Realistically, though, the future of Limbiate is quite shaky.

The rolling stock of the interurbans is quite interesting. All service on Désio, and all basic service on Limbiate, is performed by 3-car "Bloccato" trainsets consisting of a control trailer/motor/control trailer. These are numbered as 500s and 800s. The 500s were constructed using 1954-built motors and trailers from 1950-51. These trains were assembled between 1961 and 1964. The motors retained their original numbers, while the trailers, origially numbered from 347-376, were renumbered 531-554. A second group, introduced in 1962, took motor cars from a "Littorine OMS" series built in 1941 and extensively rebuilt them as 800s, filled out with trailers from 1940, 1945 and 1950. Both groups of "Bloccati" were used on the interurbans out of Adda to the towns of Vimercate, Vaprio and Cassano in the northeast suburbs. In 1968 the "Bloccati" were moved to what is now the Gorgonzola Branch of Metropolitana M2, where they ran until December 3, 1972. They were again shifted back to Vaprio and Vimercate. When these quit from 1978 to 1981, the "Bloccati" were moved to the remaining Désio and Limbiate services (loosely known as the Brianza lines), where they operate today. Six of the ten sets of 800s have been scrapped, while 11 of the 12 500-series "Bloccati" remain in service.

On weekday mornings, an impressive 5-car train runs as a school tripper on the Limbiate line, bringing a huge load of "Ragazzi" into Affori terminal. This train is comprised of one of the remaining "Désio" or "Reggio Emilia" class interurban motors and the last four serviceable trailers. These motors were built in 1926 and 1928, respectively. "Désio" 46 and "Reggio" 85, 90 and 92 are assigned to Deposito Varedo, which serves Limbiate, with car 90 equipped as a snow plow. At Désio, cars 47, 48 and 89 are operable, but not regularly used. Car 44 serves as a shunter at Teodosio Workshops, which adjoins Deposito Leoncavallo on the urban network. Cars 45 and 87 also are still in existence, but are stripped.

Although many trailers are still on the property, only four remain in service: 161, 177 and 179 "Carovana", built 1918-21 and modernized with a new metal body in 1963, and 181 "Costamasnaga" from 1924, also rebodied in 1963. 181 has 10 side windows, one longer than the "Carovana".

Also surviving, but out of service, are three "Littorina": single-unit interurbans which were used on the Cusano-Milanino branch of the Désio line. These are stored at Deposito Désio.

Visits to the two depots, Désio and Varedo, are by prior arrangement only. For a number of years, Désio stored many Peter Witts and other trams which had reached the end of their useful lives and were waiting silently for their dates with the scrapper's torch.

Additional information on Milan interurbans can be found on Ivan Furlanis's excellent site, Central Station.

A visit and ride on Milan's interurbans, featuring single-track, side-of-the-road operation with passing sidings and frequent meets, is well worth the effort--even if one has to reach the beginning of the Limbiate route by motor coach! In bustling Milan, this is a remnant of a bygone era, with all the charm associated with such an operation.

2012 Updates. The Desio line ceased rail operations on Saturday, September 17, 2011, with replacement bus service. Desio depot is set for demolition in early 2012. Some of the cars were sent to the Limbiate line, but many of the cars will be scrapped.

Beginning February 25, 2012, the Limbiate line was converted to bus operation. The line was shuttered due to the poor condition of its track. There are plans to upgrade the track but costs are high and no money is presently available.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 29462

(84k, 800x501)
Photo by: Werner Hardmeier
Collection of: Stefano Paolini/Peter Ehrlich
Location: Via Valtellina Terminal

Image 29491

(67k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Deposito Varedo

Image 29495

(73k, 720x473)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Affiori

Image 82448

(162k, 864x574)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Désio

Image 82452

(190k, 864x574)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Désio

More Images: 1-50 51-100 101-104

Page Credits

By Peter Ehrlich.

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