Italy has built 21 new rail line or extension projects in the past 20 years with average costs lower than the United States. The country has built tunneled projects at an average cost of $263 million per mile, and its eight at-grade tram projects have averaged $56 million per mile.  

Most projects are planned and executed by municipally owned transit agencies, supported primarily by national government funding. Prior to 2016, the national government covered 60 percent of transit project costs, but now funding covers 80 to 100 percent of project costs. Widespread political support for transit investment and empowered public sector project managers are credited for Italy’s building success.  

Despite average costs lower than many developed countries, Italian projects face archaeological difficulties when tunneling underground. To minimize the risk of cost and time overruns, archaeological mitigation is built into preliminary budgets and timelines. Even in cases where unexpected ancient relics are found, there typically are no significant effects on project costs or timelines.


Italy is a parliamentary republic with power split between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The Italian Parliament is a bicameral legislature, comprised of the Chamber of Deputies (630 members) and the Senate of the Republic (315 members). Members of both houses are elected every five years by popular vote. The president of the republic is chosen by a secret vote from every member of the two chambers of Parliament, along with 58 special representatives from the 20 Italian regions.  

The executive branch is led by the prime minister and cabinet. Both the prime minister and cabinet ministers are chosen by the president, and the prime minister can be ousted at any time with a vote of no confidence from Parliament. The Italian legal system is based on a mixture of Roman law and Napoleonic code and is a civil law system.

The federal government plays a primary role in funding transit projects, but delegates planning to municipalities. Since 2016, the federal government has funded 80 to 100 percent of capital construction costs for heavy rail and trams through competitive grants. The Ministry of Transport (MIMS) has national jurisdiction over local rail projects. MIMS is led by a minister and has departments for infrastructure planning, sustainable mobility, and public works. MIMS’s main role in transit project delivery is allocating funding via the National Rapid Transit Fund (TRM), creating guidelines for Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (PUMS), and issuing regulations, such as publishing environmental procedures and fire safety guidelines for local passenger transit systems.

Italy has 20 regions (regioni) with great variation in population and characteristics. Five of these regions are given greater legislative, administrative, and financial independence due to having larger proportions of cultural and ethnic minorities. Regions are ruled by a regional council, a regional committee, and a president of the committee. Regions are tasked with providing social services (such as health care, housing, education, and economic development initiatives), as well as transport, environmental protection, and agriculture. In terms of transit project delivery, regions are tasked with carrying out the environmental review process. Each region has an Environmental Agency (Agenzia Regionale per la Protezione dell’Ambiente) that monitors transit projects for compliance with federal regulations and carries out the environmental process.  

Within regions are 80 ordinary provinces, 14 metropolitan cities, and 12 autonomous/free entities. Each province has a provincial council headed by a president as well as a provincial executive. A 2015 restructuring established 14 major urban areas, classified as metropolitan cities, each led by an elected mayor, who often also serves as the mayor of the metropolitan city, as well as a legislative council and a non-legislative assembly. The main functions of the province and the metropolitan city are city planning and zoning, commercial and building permitting, local police and emergency services, and regulating and coordinating transportation.

Municipalities are the smallest administrative unit of government. They are led by an elected mayor, a legislative communal council, and an executive committee. The responsibilities of municipalities include city planning and zoning, commercial and building permitting, local police and emergency services, and regulating and coordinating transportation. Municipalities contribute up to 20 percent of costs for capital projects. Interviewees suggested that local officials often champion projects, which can disrupt project planning during administrative changes.  

Municipalities own transit agencies (sometimes referred to as “mobility agencies”), which are in charge of planning, building, and operating transit services. Transit agencies own and maintain the railway tracks but typically tender out operations. In addition, mobility agencies are tasked with applying for national-level funding. While mobility agencies are typically owned and governed at the municipal level, they can also be on the regional, provincial, or metropolitan city level.  

Currently, most public transit agencies directly manage rail transit capital projects up to $100 million. For larger projects or capital programs, some transit agencies lead initial planning responsibilities and use agency-owned special purpose delivery vehicles to manage delivery, such as Roma Metropolitane S.p.A. and Metropolitana Milanese S.p.A.  

Project planning and regulation

Transportation planning for urban rail projects in Italy occurs at the municipality level, led by the city-owned transit operator. In rural areas or smaller cities, transit can also be planned by provinces. Projects in Italy follow a typical approval process. First, the municipality funds preliminary project studies and planning efforts. This analysis, called the design policy document, specifies the project’s relative location, objectives, technical requirements and planning needs, and design recommendations.

This preliminary study is included in the national PUMS framework, which are integrated, regional transportation plans. They are published every 10 years and monitored biannually, lay out long-range planning and transportation goals, analyze how transportation planning will help urban mobility, and include planned infrastructure buildouts. While not mandated by Italian law, municipalities or metropolitan cities with over 100,000 residents must create PUMS to be eligible for federal funding. Once a transit project is on the PUMS, the municipality preliminarily approves the project and applies for funding from MIMS.  

Once it attains federal funding, the municipality carries out the first level of project design planning, called the technical-economic feasibility project (PFTE). The first phase of the PFTE is the feasibility document of design alternatives, which analyzes all possible design alternatives, including a no-build option. The other parts of the PFTE include a general report on the type and magnitude of the project, a technical needs assessment, a feasibility analysis, a summary of expenditures, safety plans, excavation plans, and a list of authorizations and licenses needed. The goal of the PFTE is to create the best system design based on a community cost-benefit ratio and organize the process to achieve that end.

The environmental process for heavy rail and trams is set at the national level and carried out on the regional level. Each region must submit documents to the National Ministry of Environment, though this is only a formality as every region has its own environmental agency. This regional agency manages environmental modelling and monitoring before, during, and after construction of a new line.  

 The environmental impact assessment (EIA) includes an in-depth analysis of project location, design, and size. It also covers significant environmental impacts, mitigation measures, and a description of reasonable alternatives (including no build). It must include a method for monitoring potential environmental impacts from project implementation to operation. The environmental review also analyzes airborne pollutants, noise and vibration, groundwater circulation, electromagnetic fields, energy balance, waste management, and soil and slurry removal. The environmental process typically takes one to three years to complete.  

While the EIA is ongoing, the municipality opens a Conferenza dei Servizi (CDS) to collect opinions from “all stakeholders.” A CDS closes with a declaration of public utility of the work, which allows land acquisition to begin. While a CDS occurs at the same time as the environmental process, they are separate processes.

The primary form of community engagement for transit projects is thepublic debate”, introduced in 2016 for infrastructure projects of national significance. According to this law, the project sponsor must hold public debate sessions, meet and discuss project details with stakeholders, publish the transcripts from these meetings, and use the comments from the meetings to prepare final project plans. Since 2021, public debate has been mandatory before national permitting and funding of infrastructure that costs more than €500 million ($500 million). However, it is becoming more common for lower-cost infrastructure projects such as trams, even when it is not required.  

There are two main ways in which citizens can oppose a project after the planning period has ended:  submitting a reasoned appeal to the Regional Administrative Court or requesting a referendum. A referendum has no binding legal implications, but politicians fear the negative political implications if they do not act on the outcome of the vote. For example, the city of Bolzano abandoned a tram project after 70 percent of the public voted against it in a referendum, even though it had only 30 percent voter turnout. While the quorum was not legally binding, it rendered the project politically dead. Because project opponents can take control of the referendum process, stakeholders remarked that public debates are becoming more popular to search for greater consensus, even when it is not mandatory.  

Once the national government approves the project, the process moves to the detailed design phase. The municipality can create detailed project plans using MIMS funds and, once approved, by hiring design, engineering, and construction firms.  

Some transit regulation in Italy comes via mandatory rules from ministerial decrees. For example, fire safety standards came from Ministerial decree 21.10.2015, “Approval of the technical fire prevention regulation for the design, construction and operation of subways.” This includes provisions for design, construction, and operation of subways for fire and emergency management. It also contains provisions to minimize instances where fire could start, advise how to mitigate a fire spreading, prepare with adequate escape routes for emergencies, and guarantee bearing structure stability.  

Other rules on design and construction come from European Union standards and follow UNI EN regulations. Ente Nazionale Italiano di Unificazione (UNI) is a nonprofit that works with stakeholders to create regulatory and technical standards across the industrial and commercial sectors, then submits them to public inquiry. Adherence to UNI EN regulations is not mandatory by law in Italy, but controlling bodies such as CSLP check compliance and require planners to justify when a design is non-compliant.  

The right for disabled access in Italy is based on sections of the Constitution and specific legislation governing accessibility in public places. However, Italy has no law equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, and there are no set accessibility standards for public spaces or transit networks. 

Project funding

The national government is the primary funder of rail transit capital projects. MIMS allocates funding annually for transportation projects via the TRM. Before 2021, MIMS allocated $1.5 to $2.5 billion annually, but in 2021 the ministry raised its funding level to $3 billion per year and created a new fund specifically for heavy rail due to project popularity and high costs. At the beginning of each year, MIMS typically opens a call for project submissions, which are required to be part of an existing PUMS document. MIMS analyzes all projects submitted for funding and scores them based on a combination of cost and other project objectives, such as reducing pollutants, reducing emissions, and lowering road congestion. The agency also uses an economic analysis model to standardize funding across the states. MIMS then assigns every project a cost-benefit score, which provides the basis for funding allocations from the TRM. 

From 2001 until 2016, the national government funded up to 60 percent of project costs, leaving municipalities/metropolitan cities and regions to fund the remaining 40 percent. Many municipalities financed their portion or, if they reached the limit for local borrowing, used private financing via a public-private partnership model. P3s were popular, particularly during the 1990s and 2000s, for trams and other “closed” lines that were not extensions of existing infrastructure. For example, the Milan M5 line was planned, built, and financed, and is operated by the Metro 5 S.p.A. consortium. Ground broke on the M5 line in 2007.  

While many P3s remain in operation, Italy has reduced its reliance on them as a construction and financing method. The European debt crisis limited the ability for localities to use P3s to finance projects, and the European Court of Auditors found P3s had widespread shortcomings and limited benefits, which decreased their popularity among project sponsors. In response, a 2016 reform (Legislative Decree 50/2016) changed national laws to allow the federal government to pay 80 to 100 percent of construction costs.

Project construction

Rail transit operating agencies typically lead project construction, or, in the case of Rome and Milan, it is handled by a special purpose construction corporation. Design-bid-build is the most common project delivery method in Italy. However, others use design-build or design-build-finance.

Italian project delivery agencies structure teams around a public sector director of works who supervises construction and a team of 10 to 15 public-sector staff, which conducts frequent worksite inspections and has the last word on all construction choices that do not significantly impact cost or design, such as validating minor change orders. Observers have noted that Italy empowers low and mid managers to work directly with construction contractors, moving projects quickly and limiting litigation. Staff also regularly engage with private consultants on specific, defined tasks that require specialized expertise.  

Construction tenders are open for two to six months for any qualified company in the EU to place a bid. To qualify, companies must have EU certifications for environmental and technical quality requirements, experience with similar projects, and a statement of how they can carry out work better than other competitors. Included in the tender documents is a calculation of what materials will cost, based on the region-specific reference price lists. Once the tender submission period ends, a commission of technical experts judges the submissions and chooses one based on a best-value analysis.   

Italy’s procurement laws evaluate projects using an analysis referred to as the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (the “MEAT” criterion), which focuses on the best value for money rather than the lowest price. This includes the quality of work, technical merit, and total cost (including lifecycle maintenance), but also analyzes environmental and social considerations. This evaluation system places a maximum weight of 30 percent on price. Contracts over $2 million must utilize the MEAT criterion when awarding a tender.

Once construction is completed, a special ministerial office within MIMS called Ustif (Special Office for Transport to Fixed Facilities) completes verification and testing procedures. This includes a pre-operation testing phase, with trains operating for three to six months without passengers.

Tunneled projects typically use cut-and-cover in peripheral areas with wide avenues and low densities, and for station excavation. Tunnel-boring machines are used in denser urban areas between stations. Tunnelling is difficult in cities with underground archaeological ruins. However, stakeholders noted that Rome serves as a good example for how to effectively manage archaeological complexities, as funding for archaeological investigation is built into the preliminary costs of projects. In fact, much of the funding for archaeology departments in local universities comes from the excavation budget for heavy rail projects, which has unearthed countless ancient artifacts.


Italy’s success in consistently building rail transit faster and cheaper than other countries in Eno’s database can be attributed to several factors. The country has established trust with its public sector employees to delivery and approve key components of the projects. By empowering project management staff to make quick decisions during construction, steps in a project can be completed faster, without the added complexity of taking simple decisions up the chain of command. 

National and regional agencies oversee a detailed and process-oriented planning and environmental review method. Italian regulations also allow key aspects of the project, such as land acquisition, to move forward after clearing partial hurdles during the permitting process. The country has also navigated the need to move along projects amid cultural sensitivities around historical artifacts, serving as a model for other countries’ projects that might unearth archeological objects.  

There is widespread national support across all political parties in Italy for funding transit capital projects.  This has led to increased national investment. Public participation in the country has historically not been robust, but recent trends have accelerated engagement, both to involve more citizens and to prevent the growing trend of popular referendums against specific transit projects.