After a little KO, here I come again.
From the beginning of the 50s born a second generation of electric railcars that brought with it a new concept: the same front ends containing bellows for motors and trailers to compose trainsets as needed and/or joint or separate sets with multiple destinations without regard to the position of each vehicle.
The first project to use this new concept was ALe/Le 840 class that born with a new globular front end in which the central upper part could be pushed up and the two central lower parts could be removed to open the bellows that is normally diagonally held between the driving cab and the second driver's place.
Motors and trailers had the same body, 28 meters long, with two para-central vestibules closed by electropneunatic folding doors and three passenger halls, one of them with a classic 4+4 seats bay and a stupid 2+2 seats half bay that looked at the separation wall. (Frankly I never understood why it was impossible to complete the bay or, alternatively, turn the seats to look at the hall).
The electrical scheme was derived from the one of the ALe 883 with strengthened traction motors, still with a 760 kW hourly power, but the bogies were from a completely new design to improve comfort and reduce maintenance costs.
Built for a top speed of 150 km/h, the 68 railcars and 68 driving trailers were quickly lowered to 130 km/h because of problems to the traction motors suspension at higher speed.
Projected for use on every kind of service, ALe and Le 840s were initially used mainly for express services (with the famous white laces to upgrade second class seats to first class ones) but their most famous duties are connected with the three-phase network.
A big amount of lines in the Piedmont and Liguria regions were 3300 v 16 2/3 hz three-phase wired (e.g. the fundamental Turin-Genoa and Genoa-french border), very complicated to manage and with a low average speed due to driving awes and the need of traction changes for direct trains. The conversion of the network to direct current was already expected but should need a long time (effectively the last line was converted in 1976) and FS was searching a meanwhile solution to improve the neglected service on these lines without using diesel railcars, surely not suitable for those services.
The solution came in the form of a basic amphibious couple M+T that could run under the two kinds of current. 26 Le 840s were transformed into Lebc 840.2 (bc=bi-current) with two pairs of special pantographs (remember that three-phase traction used two wires) and the complete rectifier equipment, put underfloor, to feed the coupled railcar when the set was used outside DC. Each converting trailer could feed only a motor and it was possible to form sets until six vehicles in multiple operation.
From 1957, after a long tuning, these bi-current couples started taking care of the most important trains, e.g. Milan-Ventimiglia, Turin-Savona or Turin-Rome, and, as the transformed trailers entered services, the biggest part of the passenger services in the three-phase network became made by the amphibious sets leaving the loco--hauled trains only to few local services or the heavyest long distance ones.
It can be interesting to see the direct Turin-Rome service: from the Piedmont capital started a "rapido" to Genoa made by one or two bi-current pairs that, more, included also a normal Le 840 trailer. At Genoa this normal trailer and a railcar were coupled to a Genoa-Rome ETR and a specular shunting was made on the return journey.
The rectifying trailers, because of their scarce number, the heavy turns and their complicateness never lost the three-phase area.
The units not used in the Piedmont-Liguria, mainly assigned to Veneto, Tuscany and Sicily, were rapidly displaced from the best services by more modern and comfortable units and started their humble work on direct or stopping local trains.
With the progressive conversions of the three-phase lines to DC, the amphibious sets were concentrated at the Turin depot and, when the last line was converted (Alessandria-Acqui, May 25 1976),
the converting trailers were, very quietly, returned to their original status and identities but followed with their daily work.
In general, the class passed nearly all its career working from few depots (Bozen, Lecco, Mestre, Turin, Leghorn, Messina) but their turns took themselves nearly everywhere on the DC network, many times using Le 640 too.
After a progressive lowering to minimal and reserve duties , the last unit were retired from Bozen depot in 2005.
ALe 840.011 preserved by ALe 883 society at Sondrio
ALe 840.046 preserved by Feralp Team society at Bussoleno
Le 840.061 preserved by Trieste Campo Marzio railway museum.
Images thanks to:
Photorail.it, probably the best site for Italian railroad photography
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