As the future high speed lines would have been built with far gentle curve radii and the tilting technology required various compromises, the new trains that would run on them were projected as classic, non tilting, sets.
The ETR 500 class was classified as "elettrotreno", so light self propelled stock, but sets were really rakes of dedicated coaches with a powerful single cab locomotive each end.
From 1988 began trials before with an half set (ETR 500 X) and then with two prototype ones (ETR 500 Y1 and Y2).
From 1992 the 30 series production sets, composed of two 4400 Kw E 404 locos (E 404 100-159) sandwiching four first class, a restaurant and six second class coaches, started entering service, mainly on the Milan-Rome-Naples route taking advantage of the sole (at the time) high speed line, the Direttissima Florence-Rome.
But the daily use showed a big problem: although ETR 500s were projected for 300 km/h, they couldn't be used at more than 250 because of the enormous absorption of DC was not supported by the supplying system; even, when the 200 km/h were passed, only one loco should be active.
With new High Speed Lines under building, FS had to quickly change idea and electrified them at 25000 V single phase.
But in this manner the ETR 500s would become useless so were ordered new bi-current locomotives to substitute the original ones and thirty new sets to increase the fleet.
The DC-only E 404.1 were transformed in E 414, limited to 200 km/h and used to top-and-tail rakes of classic Z and TEE refurbished coaches. Still used in "Freccia Bianca" and IC services on traditional lines, their main problem is the excess of power that tends to provoke wheel slippings with the consequent putting out of traction of the unit.
The new locomotives, classified as E 404.5 for the older sets and 404.6 for the newer ones (but later mixed as needed) have the same output but a better aesthetic; their top speed is 360 km/h (300 + 20%).
When the Turin-Milan HSL opened, in 2005, at the beginning were used 8 cars sets because of the short platforms at the Malpensa intercontinental airport station; in the first half of the 2000s some sets were modified to be used under 1500 V DC on international services to France but never received approval from the gaules;
From 2008 all sets were refurbished and the classic first/second accomodation were changed to four levels of service (executive, business, premium and standard) accompanied with a new red, white and black livery.
After some years of sidelining, the two prototype ETR 500 Y, changed their locos, were rebuilt as HSL diagnostic trains and now continuously run on the network to check all parameters.
The 59 sets (one was lost in an accident) are in daily use and are the sole, joint with the newer ETR 400s, able to run at more than 300 km/h. The class is holder of the italian speed record and world speed record in tunnel with 362 km/h.
Many thanks for the images to Stefano Paolini and his Photorail site, probably the best Italian one for railroad photography.
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