The International Steam Pages

The Ferrovie Calabro-Lucane, Italy

Roberto Troianoís FCL website at (link broken 1st November 2019) is well worth a visit, some of the material in it has been used in preparing the notes that follow.

Thomas Kautzor reports 98th September 2015 (that 353 (see below) appears to be back in action. See and This was a special, organized by the Calabrian Railway Association on August 23rd 2015.

James Waite writes:

The Ferrovie Appulo-Lucane (ďFALĒ) and the Ferrovie della Calabria (ďFdeCĒ) today are major public transport providers throughout the regions of Basilicata, Puglia and Calabria in southern Italy. They operate a large bus and coach networks but for narrow gauge enthusiasts itís mainly of interest for their surviving 950mm gauge railways. The FAL is based at Bari on the east coast with lines which reach Matera to the south and Potenza and Avigliano, high in the Appenines, to the west. The FdeC operates two systems, one based at Cosenza and one, further south and almost opposite Sicily, at Gioia Tauro. They run through spectacular mountain scenery and deserve to be better known by enthusiasts than they are.

The railways were built by the Societa Italiana per le Strade Ferrate del Mediterraneo and became known as the Mediterraneo Calabro-Lucane or MCL for short. The first length, from Bari to Matera, opened on 9th August 1915. What today is the FAL system reached Potenza and Aviglano in stages between 1930 and 1934. Down in Calabria the first line, from Castrovillari to Spezzano Albanese Terme, which included an Abt rack section, opened on 15th September 1915 followed by the first length from Cosenza south as far as Rogliano on 9th October 1916. In the far south of Calabria the first line from Gioia Tauro along the coast to Seminara opened on 18th January 1917 and the system there was complete by 28th March 1929.

Construction continued throughout the 1920ís and early 1930ís. The line south from Cosenza reached Decollatura, north of Catanzaro, on 30th March 1924. From a junction with this railway at Petace, in the outskirts of Cosenza, a branch was built into the Sila mountains as far as San Pietro in Guarano on 11th October 1922. This is a long, winding line with spectacular views down over the plain and Cosenza for much of the way. On 10th August 1931 it was extended to Camigliatello Silano, much higher up in the mountains. This section is said to include gradients as steep as 1 in 18 and to be the steepest adhesion-worked railway in Europe. The route southwards from Decollatura on towards Catanzaro, a hilltop city near the southern coast of the peninsula, was exceptionally difficult. It was completed throughout to Catanzaro Lido, on the coast, by 18th June 1934 and includes another Abt rack section down the escarpment through Catanzaro between Pratica and Sola.

The system now consisted of nine isolated lines or groups of lines. Construction did not resume until the early 1950ís when the Sila railway was extended for 27kms eastwards from Camigliatello Silano through the high, wild Silan Altiplano to San Giovanni in Fiore. On the way it passes through San Nicola Ė Silvana Mansio station at the summit of the line, 1,406 meters above sea level. The station claims to be the highest in Italy. The new line formed part of an attempt to halt the rapid depopulation of the district and was opened with great ceremony on 6th May 1956. It must be one of the last narrow gauge railways to have been built in Europe. There was a proposal to extend it onwards from San Giovanni in Fiore to Petilia Policastro where it would have joined an existing line from Crotone on the east coast but this was never achieved. The Crotone line closed in 1972.

The Mediterraneo companyís concession to operate the system was revoked after an appalling accident on 23rd December 1961 in which seventy people died when a carriage derailed on a bridge over a ravine 2kms north of Catanzaro. A government commission took over operation of the railway which by then had become known as the Ferrovie Calabro-Lucane. Many of the lines, mostly in Calabria but also including outlying parts of the Bari system, were closed in the later 1960ís and 1970ís. The Mediterraneo company had operated the line from headquarters in Rome since 1928 and the state-owned business continued to operate from there until 1st January 1991 when the management of the Bari and the Calabria lines was separated. The Bari system became the FAL. The Calabrian lines became the FdeC and are managed from Catanzaro. In 2001 control passed to the regional governments in place of central government.

The railway was an early user of internal combustion traction. The first diesel loco, no 301, was supplied in 1926 and a fleet of railcars was built up from the early 1930ís. Steam remained in regular use throughout the system until the 1970ís and continued on the Catanzaro rack until a series of three rack-fitted diesel locos, noís 701-703, was built for the line by SLM between 1981 and 1985.

Today most services are worked by railcars, all built since 1952. Thereís a frequent suburban service around Bari and Potenza, in Cosenza and between Catanzaro Citta and Catanzaro Lido Ė the latter necessitating the use of rack-fitted railcars. Less frequent trains also run over the rural parts of the two railways. The 1950ís built line beyond Camigliatello Silano no longer sees regular traffic but is kept in good condition for tourist trains. Down on the Gioia Tauro system the line inland to Cinquefrondi remains open throughout its length but the line southwards to Sinopoli no longer sees regular trains beyond Palmi. This one of the old railcars on the southern system at Gioia Tauro station.

Steam still has a presence - just. No. 421, one of the 1930-built 400 class 2-6-0Tís built by CEMSA at Saronno between 1930 and 1932 and fitted with Caprotti gear, was restored for use on the Bari system in 1989 followed by sister loco no. 402 in 1992. They were used for tourist and enthusiast trains until 1997 when they were stopped for boiler work which has never been carried out. Since then no. 402 has languished inside Potenza depot and no. 421 is at Bari. Down on the FdeC five steam locos were set aside for future use around the same time. The oldest of them, 2-6-0T no. 188 has been kept in store at Gioia Tauro for many years but has never been restored. This elegant 2-6-0T is the only survivor of eighteen locos forming the 270 class.

0-8-0T no. 353 was restored to working order in 1991 for use on the Cosenza system. At the end of 2008 it was set aside to await major overhaul and had been running for the previous two years on an extended boiler certificate. At present itís unclear when this work will be undertaken. Itís a big, chunky engine with small wheels and a fat boiler Ė very much a hill-climbing machine. It was usually kept in the loco shed at Camigliatello Silano and in the summer operated tourist trains to the summit of the line at San Nicola Ė Silvana Mansio every Saturday morning. Itís one of three of these 350 class locos fitted with Walschaerts gear which were built by Borsig in 1926. Shortly afterwards eight further locos were built by Breda and Ansaldo in Italy which were identical to the Borsigs save that they carried Caprotti gear.

No. 403, another of the CEMSA 2-6-0Tís was restored at Cosenza in 1987. Its boiler received a general overhaul in 2003 but the loco has yet to be reassembled and is currently a kit of parts stored mostly in the open at Cosenza depot.

The Ferrovie Calabro-Lucane at its greatest extent in the late 1950ís, also showing proposed extensions which were never built:

No. 504, a rack-fitted 2-6-2T is one of six 500 class locos built by CEMSA, with considerable design input from SLM, in 1931 and 1932 for use on the Catanzaro and Castrovillari rack lines. Itís the only loco on the line which has never been withdrawn from service. It last received a general overhaul in 2003 but has spent the past three years or so at the back of Cosenza works receiving front end attention, work which has still not been completed at the time of writing. Sister loco no. 502 is stored at Serrastretta Carlpoli station on the Cosenza - Catanzaro line and thereís a long-term plan to put it back into working order. No. 503 has been preserved at the old station at Castrovillari for many years while no. 506 has recently gone on display opposite the Holiday Inn at Cosenza. The locos are 4-cylinder compounds with the low-pressure cylinders powering the rack mechanism and the high-pressure ones the driving wheels. The locos bear more than a passing resemblance to those on the X class 0-8-2RTís built by SLM for the Ooty railway in India, the first of which appeared some eighteen years earlier, and to the 0-8-0RTís built by SLM for the Da Lat rack line in Vietnam in the 1920ís.

Several carriages, mostly built in the 1920ís, were refurbished for use on the steam services. They were divided between the FAL and the FdeC when they went their separate ways in 1991 and are still kept in good condition.

Several other steam locos have also been preserved as static exhibits; details are in the table. In its early days the railway was worked by a variety of small locos. Many of them were second hand including some of the FS class R370 0-6-0 rack tank locos loaned to the railway from the Sicilian narrow gauge lines. One of this class, beautifully restored, is on display in the Italian national railway museum at Pietrarsa, near Naples.

The last steam locos acquired by the railway arrived at the FCL after careers on railways in two continents. The two 0-6-0Tís were built by OMI Reggio in 1918 as works numbers 40 and 41. They started their working lives with the Compania Mineria della Nurra in north western Sardinia. In 1927 they were shipped to Somalia where they saw service at Mogadishu and in 1938 moved on to Eritrea. Here they were numbered R300.001 and R300.002 and allocated to Massawa depot. They were the only 0-6-0Tís ever to run in Eritrea and must have felt somewhat lonely among all the Mallet tanks which were arriving in the country at the same time! The Italians were driven out of Eritrea by British forces during the Second World War. In 1945 the two locos were transferred from Eritrea to the MCL by the British in compensation for facilities the railway had afforded to the allied war effort in the liberation of Italy. On the MCL they became the 300 class, perhaps a reference to their Eritrean numbering. Sadly neither of them has survived.

Nine Bo-Bo diesel hydraulics forming the 600 class were built in 1974 by Breda and Ferrosud, Noís 601 and 606 now run on the Cosenza system and 605 and 608 are based at Gioia Tauro. The other five passed to the FAL. No. 602 is based at Potenza and the other four are at Bari. Their arrival heralded the end of regular steam operation on the FCL. Four four-wheeled diesel shunters, the 750 class, were built by Greco at Reggio di Calabria in 1983. Noís 751 and 752 passed to the FAL in 1991 and noís 753 and 754 are on the FdeC. There are several modern service vehicles including two self-propelled snowploughs, noís. 2971 and 2972 built by Rolba in 1973. Despite being in the far south of Europe the FdeC is often affected by snowdrifts, particularly on the line to Camigliatello Silano which is a flourishing ski resort.

One of the 600 class locos is often based at Camigliatello Silano to operate tourist trains and has also been used to follow steam trains during the summer with a water tank ready to put out any lineside fires. With the demise of no. 353 at the end of 2008 the steam tourist service has been suspended until one of the steam locos is put back into working order. Letís hope this happens soon.

Southern Italy is often regarded as the poor relation of the more industrial parts of the country further north. The Silan Altiplano through which the railway runs between Camigliatello Silano and Sam Giovanni in Fiore is particularly attractive. Itís a plateau at considerable altitude rather than a mountain range with a multitude of wild flowers in May and early June and mushrooms, berries and spectacular colours in the autumn. Even in mid-summer, when regular steam trains have run in past years, the heat of the sun is more often or not tempered by a cool breeze.

A significant part of the population of the rural parts of Calabria arrived in the region in the 1400ís as refugees from the Ottoman invasion of Albania. Initially banished to build their own villages in remote mountainous areas they have retained their distinctive culture and religious traditions. Known as the Italo-Arbreshe they still speak a medieval form of Albanian. The women are distinctive in their brightly coloured and elaborate Albanian dresses. The mountain villages are pretty but there is much obvious poverty. Thereís a clear need for major investment.

During the past few years one beneficiary of investment on a large-scale has been the Cosenza system. The line to Catanzaro Lido is now worked by CTC, something which unfortunately has involved the installation of large and somewhat unsightly signal gantries at many of the picturesque stations en route. The Cosenza lines start from the FS station to the north of the city Ė a large but somewhat soulless place. Just to the south a large new workshop and depot facility has been built, a most impressive structure. 2km to the south lies Cosenza Citta station, close to the picturesque old town. Just beyond it plunges into a tunnel under the town and emerges not far before Pedace where the two lines diverge and head off into the mountains.

The system at Gioia Tauro has a distinctly careworn appearance as does the town itself. Thereís a splendid sandy beach but all around is dereliction. Few visitors would want to spend time there as things are now. This seems to be a place where thereís a particularly crying need for investment. Maybe one day no. 188 will be put back into working order. A properly marketed tourist train service on this part of the system could well breathe some much-needed life into the economy of this beautiful corner of Europe.

Surviving FCL steam locos:

188 Breda 2059/1923 Gioia Tauro Stored out of use (picture, 14th September 2008)

353 Borsig 11940/1926 Cosenza In working order (pictures at San Giovanni in Fiore station and on the turntable there, 13th September 2008)

358 Ansaldo 1352/1928 Rome Privately preserved 
401 CEMSA 934/1930 Paliano, Lazio Preserved at La Selva park
402 CEMSA 935/1930 Potenza Stored out of use at Potenza depot (picture, 19th February 2010):

403 CEMSA 936/1930 Cosenza Stored in pieces awaiting repair
411 CEMSA 944/1931 Citta di Castello, Perugia On display at a private museum
412 CEMSA 945/1931 Mileto Preserved at site of old station
418 CEMSA 973/1932 Paliano, Lazio Preserved at La Selva park
421 CEMSA 976/1932 Bari Stored out of use at Bari Scalo depot
502 CEMSA 966/1931 Serrastretta Carlpoli Stored out of use
503 CEMSA 967/1932 Castrovillari Preserved at site of old station
504 CEMSA 968/1932 Cosenza Under repair (picture 13th September 2008)

506 CEMSA 970/1932 Cosenza Preserved opposite the Holiday Inn, stuffed and mounted but it gives a better idea of what these locos look like when they're in one piece!

Sources: Le Ferrovie Coloniali Italiane by G. Gatti pub. Edizioni G.R.A.F., Roma, 1975 
Le Ferrovie Appulo Lucane by S. Rongone pub. Laveante Editore, Bari 1998 ISBN 978 88 7949 1617
Per Binari e Stazioni tra Pollino e Aspromonte, ed. A Iannicelli, pub. FdeC 2006 ISBN 88-88343-46-6 
Preserved locomotives and railcars of Italy by B. Garvin, pub. LCGB 2003
Roberto Troianoís FCL website at (link broken 1st November 2019)

More pictures and other resources are available on the web (thanks to Stefano Paolini for these):

FC Catanzaro line - a few pictures on these pages:

  • (link broken by 29th October 2017)

  • (link broken by 17th November 2020)

Until 1992 there was also the legendary Paola-Cosenza FS rack line, closed officially in 1986, used again 2 times in 1992 and since then abandoned but not stripped away:

Rob Dickinson