Ten railway and tram things you must see or do in Milan
1) Milan Central Station (Milano Centrale)
Conceived at the beginning of the 20th century, completed in 1931, it is a unique spot: its architecture ranges from Art Nouveau to Art Deco style, with a 19th century taste in the great steel canopies that cover the tracks. Railway photographers could find interesting to shot towards the five old interlocking towers, abandoned in 1984.
Talking about history, you can’t miss “Binario 21” (“track 21”), the Shoah memorial that was set up in the former freight depot, under the passenger tracks: the memorial includes also some old freight cars (the entrance is on the eastern front of the station, piazza Edmond Sefra)
2) A run on a classical Peter Witt tram (streetcar)
Also known by railfans as “la carrelli” (“boogie car”) or “1928 type”, the 1500 class tram is a real landmark of Milan, with about 150 cars on duty at present day. You can find the carrelli cars on several lines: i.e. the line 1 and the 10 cross the city centre, on treed-lined streets between austere 18-19th century buildings, and they pass by the first railway station in Milan (Porta Nuova, 1840, see the picture below) and the marmoreal City Court built at the sunset of the fascist era. And don’t miss the spot near the “Arco della pace” – Arch of Peace – the triumphal arch built during Napoleon’s domination over Northern Italy.
Note that some Milan cars found a way to the US and are now used in San Francisco, on the famous Market Street Line!
3) The railway section of the National Science and Technological Museum
Despite the limited space available, the collection shows the history and evolution of the railways in Italy, from the end of 19th Century to the Seventies. You can discover powerful steam locomotives (but remember that Italy ceased steam loco evolution in the Twenties) as well as electric motors using three different tensions: 600 volt on third rail, the obsolete three-phase system disappeared in 1976, and the still-in-use 3000 volt.
The section also holds some cars and locomotives from typical local lines, like the “Ferrovie Nord Milano” (a commuter network north of the city) or the Gambadelegn (“Peg leg locomotive”) the steam tram that used to run on a trunk road in the western suburbs until the 50s (!!!).
If you are interested on this steam-era relic, follow the road just ouside the museum and reach (by car, by bus or even by bike) the nearby town of Settimo Milanese: here a very little, “homemade” pavilion hosts another steam tram locomotive and an interlocking system (for opening times, look here a Google-translated webpage)
4) The “classical” interurban to Limbiate
The tram line connecting Milan with the town of Limbiate is the last one of a wide network once serving the rural province. The journey starts from Comasina, the northern terminus of the M3 metro: enjoy a half-hour trip on cars dating back to the 50s (although modernized in the 80s), on light rails on the side of the road, passing by ugly factories, small churches and even a little farmhouse that looks like a ghost in the suburbs.
In the town of Varedo you will reach the tram depot: in the court you can sometimes see old rolling stock (cars from the 20s, now used for shunting purpose). After the town centre of Limbiate, right before arriving at the terminus, a large turn in a field evokes for a while the countryside, now disappeared
5) All around the city on the ring railway
Take the S9 suburban railway in Milano San Cristoforo station (southern suburbs) or in Milano Greco (just north of city centre): the ring railway runs very close to old town estern edges, passing by buildings dating back to the first half of 20th century. There’s a train every 30 minutes, calling at four stops: Milano Porta Romana is a station with an interesting architecture and was once surrounded by factories (during WWI, this area was targeted by the first air bombing on Milan, by German planes).
Walking for ten minutes, you reach the very last remains of the 17th Century city fortifications, the ancient gate, now hosting the “Terme di Milano” (Milan baths): in the courtyard there is an astonishing Peter Witt streetcar used… as a sauna! There’s a reason for this tribute: the space within the city walls was used for years as a depot for tram vehicles.
On the other side, towards the suburbs, you can spot the modern, white tower of Fondazione Prada
6) The “lilac” underground line
Opened in 2013, the M5 line is the first driverless metro in Milan: if you sit in the front of the train, you can experience an exciting trip in the brand-new tunnels. As you arrive in Porta Garibaldi, shift to the “green line station” and observe the two disused tracks on both sides of the rails now in use: they were part of a planned fast tram system (underground only in central areas) that was conceived in the 60s, but never built
7) Milano Porta Genova station
Once a through station on the now disappeared western ring railway, it’s the smallest terminus in Milan (but the closest to the “Duomo” cathedral, the city omphalos). It lies in a former working class and industrial neighbourhood (which saw gentrification since the late Nineties) and looks more like a sober rural station than a urban terminal. Hurry-up: the city council and Italian State Railways are working to close the station, diverting all trains on the eastern ring railway
8 ) By tram to San Cristoforo church
From Porta Genova or Porta Ticinese (19th century city gate), take the tram line (2 or 14) along the towpath of Naviglio Grande (“great canal”), one of the three canals left in Milan, digged in the Middle Ages to transport the marble stones for the cathedral and other goods.
It’s just a one mile trip, reaching the medieval gothic church of San Cristoforo: in one shot you can take a photo of the church, the tram and the iron railway bridge, used by S9 suburban trains.
Half mile away there is a very intriguing industrial heritage site: the vertical-lift bridge that allowed railway cars to reach the Richard Ginori factory
9) The “Green Line”, a suburban metro system
While most of Milan metro network runs underground and within city boundaries, in the eastern suburbs the M2 line runs for about 10 miles on ground level (but obviously without level crossings).
The ground level section starts on Viale Palmanova avenue: this section opened in 1959 and was part of the “Adda fast tram” line, later converted into a full metro system in the seventies.
Cimiano station – inside the city, but ground level – looks like a tiny railway yard (with dead end sidings), Cascina Gobba is a busy junction, with a view on the concrete viaducts heading east and north east.
10) Milano Porta Garibaldi station
From Central station, follow the new elevated path through the skyscrapers district that once was a railway area (the old “Varesine” terminal, for local trains heading north-west). In about 10 minutes walking you will arrive in Milano Porta Garibaldi station, the main terminus for commuters, now used also by Tgv from Paris and some “Frecciarossa” high-speed trains.
All along the southern side of the station you can take good photo shots including old trams and shimmering skyscrapers
The images on this page are hosted on Giorgio Stagni e Franco Pepe websites and on Photorail (a great photo collection by Stefano Paolini). The picture of Metro 2 is used on approval of Alessandro Destasi photographer, here his flickr page