1700 opportunities

How many times did happen to you to be in a little station of a little town, with almost nobody around, in the Italian countryside in the middle of nowhere? It seems quite an unlikely scenario, in some fancy movie where the protagonists have just five euros, a backpack and one cigarette left, trying to get home. Unfortunately, this could potentially be the destiny reserved to everyone, who finds him/herself in one of the 1700 abandoned little stations in Italy.

The country of the small towns, always hold up as far away from technological advances, seems now to have too many technological tools within medium and little train stations. Just for briefly recap what happened: the automation of the controls and their “out station” activation in a single center has imposed a different allocation of human resources. This is a typical case of how the development and upgrading of technology can undermine and revolutionize the organization of pre-existing work. The main output of the so-called C.T.C. (Centralized Traffic Control system) on the management of human resources, was precisely to replace personnel who served in circulation stations.

Thanks to the technological innovation, medium and little stations are free from duties purely related to the railway, which became obsolete. They are now concentrated in few locations and carried out by a few men, with the help of computers. However, the new management carried out by more technological assets, indeed, does not mean that the stations have to remain without rail services, or that the lines have to be deleted, or that the railway stations have to be closed. These stations have still their traditional value of usage for the community: daily trains continue to arrive and departure again, the passengers continue to get on and off the trains, and to attend in the waiting halls, or to use the shelters.

This poses new management problems of the vast real estate assets that the Ferrovie dello Stato (the Italian State Railway Agency) have to deal with. As already said the unstaffed stations are 1700 considering all the national territory.

On the one hand, the giant costs of maintaining small stations all around Italy emerges, with all that this implies for the State. One the other hand, the traditional value of each station has to be considered with its functions for the community that everyday lives the station.

When the resources are lacking but at list, some assets are available, there come in place energies and ideas. More than ever, the Kennedy’s way to say: “don’t ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, seems to be the right path to follow.

This is the reason of the agreement signed by the Ferrovie dello Stato and CSVnet – National Coordination Centers for Voluntary Services (March 14th 2013) – for developing innovative measures of social support of the whole country. An action that is part of a Memorandum of UnderstandingsUs with some major associations (CSVnet, Italian Association for Responsible Tourism, Legambiente and Legacoopsociali) and through which the Ferrovie dello Stato intends to make an innovative system of management of unused real estate assets at National and European level.

The idea is to give the disused spaces to the ones who would take care of them, in particular to volunteers’ associations, which have the right attitude and the need to have spaces where to operate with their social and communitarian projects. The agreement indeed, is about making these spaces available for meetings and promotion of volunteering. That is not all. The formula used to revitalize these areas is that of the contracts in free loan with a duration of 5 to 9 years: municipalities, local authorities and non-profit associations can use the stations to accommodate social activities, institutions, associations, and to initiate projects. This new way of management has a positive impact on the territory and the quality of the stations themselves. Thanks to the sale of loan, the community is enriched with service facilities and this guarantees at the same time positive effects in terms of quality and decor of the stations.

Some examples of the implementation of this project date back to September 2014 and are continuously taking place. Lazzaro di Motta San Giovanni (Rc), location assigned to the Association “InHoltre“, will host a center with educational and recreational workshops for children with disabilities. At Condofuri (Rc), the Association “Europa Unita” will organize daily activities of land conservation. At Maddaloni (Ce), assigned to the CSV of Caserta, it will be promoted voluntary activities on the territory. At the station of Pineto (Te), assigned to “non-profit Pros Pineto“, it will implement the social and health service transport, assistance and delivery of drugs at home in the province of Teramo. At Eboli (Sa), for example, inside the building of the former cargo warehouse it was opened a rehearsal room for local bands.

These are just few of the stories that are bringing back to life the Italian railway stations. What is important to understand it is that in a situation of decline there might be an opportunity. Opportunities, as we saw, do not have costs. Instead, they have a variety of unexplored way of collaboration.