If you stand at Piazza Carlo III in Naples, in front of the old Albergo dei Poveri
(the massive Bourbon “Hospice for the Poor”—the Royal Poor House) and look across the street, you can see a building (photo, right) with “Ferrovia Napoli - Piedimonte Matese” engraved on the face. “Ferrovia”--it claims to be a train station. Indeed, some older maps of the city still show squiggly dotted lines leading away from that building—a rail line. It is, alas, a deception. Though the doors are sometimes open and you can get in to see historical maps and things on the walls, the Piedimonte d'alife Railway, or the Alifana, is no more.
The railway took its name from the last stop, the Piedimonte d'Alife station , today named Piedimonte Matese, a town about 40 miles north of Naples. The original plan was to provide service from downtown Naples up through the area known as Capodimonte (site of the airport), through Secondigliano, Marano, Giugliano, and then out of the city, north to the less densely populated areas in the foothills. It was originally in two stretches: the “lower Alifano’ from Naples to Santa Maria Capua Vetere and then the “upper Alifano” for the remaining distance to Piedimonte Matese. The railway was narrow-guage and was opened in March of 1913 from Naples to Capua, a distance of 43 kilometers (c. 25 miles). The finishing touces to Piedimonte d'Alife were then completed by October 1914. The railway did its job for decades. The upperline was powered by steam locomotives and the lower section was electric.
Then, both sections were heavily damaged in WW2. The upper line was repaired and restored to service, but the lower line—the one from piazza Carlo III in downtown Naples—never really came back, although it geared up again and did provide important comuter service into the 1970s. At that point,it could not keep up with demand and simply closed. It essentially surrended to cars, busses and the need for more streets. Since then, many of the stations and portions of the old right-of-way have been demolished, built over, paved up, encroached upon, vandalzied. and rendered otherwise unusable for the original purposes. (It is a formidable exercise in so-called “urban archaeology” to try to trace the old route and find bits and pieces of stations and track. “By Jove, professor! That’s a piece of an axel from the old R.305 Henschel engine! And look! That station is now a McDonald’s parking lot!” )
In the meantime, the upper line was rebuilt by 1963, going over from steam to diesel and retooling to the standard national railway gauge, connecting to the main Italian rail network. That made the division between the upper and lower lines final. The upper line ran and still runs, and the lower line is a memory. Hopes of ever reopening the Little-Train-that-Couldn’t are illusory. The need for rapid rail transportation back and forth between downtown and the area once served by the lower Alifana will be partially met when the new Metropolitana is completed. Indeed, it is already possible to get from Secondigliano (the Piscinola station) into the city (but not yet to the main train station) by comfortable modern subway. The builders of that new Metro are now in their second or third Cheops of construction. A Cheops is the standard unit of time for building anything in Naples. One Cheops is equal to the time it took to build the Great Pyramind.