One of the most unknown and small groups of EMUs has been the so-called GAI train, that instead has been very important for the development of the modern light stock.
At mid 70s the transport policy was very much road-oriented and railways were seen as a time warp to bear until the last italian person bought a private car but in the same time there was urgent need to improve the commuting workers movement.
To reverse this strange situation and restart the languishing railway industry, the main italian builders united themselves in the Gruppo Aziende Italiane (GAI, Italian Firms Group), a temporary association that developed an innovative trainset incorporating many new technologies: the modular bodies were built in aluminium alloy; the secondary suspension was pneumatic, made by air cushion, to support the high loads of the commuters service; driving cabs were re-designed avoiding the problematic gangway between two trainsets (but obviously maintaining the passage between elements of the set) giving far more space and comfort to the drivers; rheostatic braking and, first time in an Italian EMU, electronic traction equipment controlled by choppers. To ease joining with another set, the front ends were equipped with Scharfenberg couplings.
Each was composed by two motors sandwiching two trailers and had a total hourly output of nearly 2000 kw that gave an excellent acceleration and a top speed of 140 km/h, more than enough for stopping services.
To try the new project, FS ordered three sets in which every element had two doors per side (ALe 804+Le 884+Le 884+ALe 804) and three sets whose elements had three doors per side (ALe 644+Le 724+Le 724+ALe 644).
Built at the end of the 70s, they were assigned to Milano Centrale depot
and intensely used on the lines diverging from the Lombardy capital. They demonstrated to be reliable (contrary to the contemporary "tigers", first electronic FS locomotives) and were beloved by the drivers for the good attitude to recuperate lateness.
A problem appeared during the duty was the big difference in seating between the two kinds of set; my good friend Alfredo Forti, main depot chief at Milano Centrale, brilliantly solved it simply swapping trailers between the two kinds.
Being a group of only six trains, moreover different between them and not compatible with other classes, they needed a separate turn difficult to manage in a big hub like Milan so, at the end of the decade they were transferred to Bologna Centrale depot and worked approximately ten years more mainly on the adriatic line changing in the meantime their livery from the original grey/orange to the xmpr scheme.
But the quick ageing of the first generation power electronics made that some elements were sidelined from the end of the century and the remaining ones displaced to Ancona where they had little use; the last set, composed only by three elements,
was retired in 2007.
No sets have been preserved as historic items.
Images courtesy of:
Photorail.it, probably the best Italian site for railroad photography.
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