Mussolini, railways & myth
14 August 2007
claim has led to more nodding heads in the
It is noticeable that no journalist nor critic quotes a traceable source. Letters to the media requesting the source or disputing the claim are unanswered. Contact with the Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute failed to confirm the claim, or identify any possible source. One person at the Embassy said it was a myth. The Institute referred me to a University professor, from whom no reply was received. I attempted to lay this ghost to rest in a recent book , but it is still popping up.
cared nothing for public opinion, which in every country was simply
manufactured by newspaper owners as he knew only too well from personal
experience”. None was more
skilled in using propaganda (aka myth) than Mussolini. If
The reality is that, even Mussolini himself did not claim - in his 1937 autobiography - that Italian trains ran on time, much less that he was the architect. His autobiography does not mention a threat to drivers, nor claim that railways were reliable, but does say that he got rid of critical editors and politicians. If he could openly admit to disposing of opposition, he would have had no qualms about claiming his success in railway operations, by whatever means - had that been a fact. Logic suggests that if train drivers had been so threatened, there would have been a high incidence of absence from work due to simulated illness, and a failure of other staff to take promotion to the job as driver. Both would seriously delay trains.
His autobiography mentions that he “imposed an eight hour day on all workers”. Similar action here would have prevented traffic loss to road, and allowed railways to invest more and further improve services. Instead of pursuing the course adopted by Italy, UK Government had imposed an eight hour day for all railway employees in 1919, despite protests by the companies that this, following their iniquitous treatment during World War 1, would push many rural and secondary companies deep into insolvency. This fear was addressed by Government forcing 123 railway companies to merge into four groups (The Big Four) in 1923, so that the profitable companies were compelled to subsidise the rest.
Of eight biographies of Mussolini, Palla had no reference to railways. Fermi’s only reference to
railways is that a new station was built in
Ridley says that the belief prevalent among his British admirers that Mussolini had made the trains run on time “aroused much ridicule among intellectuals”.
Smith wrote that “the Italian
railway system had been run down during WW1, but had been much improved between
the Wars. The claim was advanced that Italian trains were the envy of
“Coal had to come by sea when, in World War II,
it ought to have come overland by rail. Only two of the nine railroads through
the Alps had been provided with double tracks and capacity was estimated to be
little more than a quarter of
“There was a major shortage of, in excess of 10,000 trucks in WW2, because trains running on time had become one of the accepted myths of fascism and Mussolini had never charged anyone with the task of planning communication in the event of war”.
“Propagandists were instructed to proclaim that
Bosworth’s only references to trains or railways in his biography are that [Mussolini] “May have made the trains run on time, as his propaganda declared, but wars it seemed were a different matter”. By this Bosworth was referring to the lack of war planning by this dictator, who told Hitler that he needed 17,000 trains carrying 170m tons to enable him to be able to wage war alongside his ally Germany. The key words are “as his propaganda declared” emphasising the unproven nature of this claim. There is no reference to any source that substantiates this propaganda claim, despite the extensive research by this noted author, who lists nearly 1500 bibliographical sources, a high proportion in the original Italian language.
mentions that when Mussolini was summoned by the King to be become Prime
Minister in 1922, he told the station master at
George Seldes , states that the claim that “the trains always run on time, was parroted as an answer to all criticisms, including lack of editorial freedom or justice. The fascist regime made this claim to portray a country in which law and order prevailed. An investigation covering two weeks revealed several derailments leading to serious delays.
Seldes adds that:
it is true that the majority of big expresses run on time - those carrying eye-witness tourists - but on smaller lines, bad rail and roadbed conditions frequently caused delays. The Belgian Foreign Minister said we were always kept waiting at level crossings for more than a quarter of an hour, because the trains were never there at the times they should have been passing”.
Pre-war Keesings Contemporary Archives has many entries relating to Mussolini, none of which mention the railways. There is only one pre-war reference to Italian railways “that all main line and secondary lines are to be electrified to reduce coal imports.” 
Two books on Fascism under Mussolini do not mention railways at all. 
It is pertinent to ask why there is an obsession to criticise British railways - whether nationalised or private sector - for failing to deliver a 100% reliable and safe service to the customer, when no other industry does so.
BBC commentator  said that the Prime Minister should concentrate on getting
trains to run on time. I phoned: “before worrying about getting trains on
time to benefit 10% of the population, could the PM look into getting buses,
planes and ships to be punctual, thus benefiting far more than rail passengers.
He could also take action to compel
 D Mack Smith,
 Benito Mussolini, My Autobiography, 1937, page 255
 Edward Gibbins, Square Deal Denied, 1998, chapter 2
 Marco Palla, Mussolini and Fascism, 2001
 Laura Fermi, Mussolini,1961, page 361
 Martin Blinkhorn, Mussolini and Fascist Italy, 1994 See page 28
 Jasper Ridley, Mussolini, 1997, page 210
 D Mack Smith Mussolini’s
 RJB Bosworth, Mussolini, 2002
 Nicholas Farrell: Mussolini - a new life, 2004, page 121
 George Seldes, Sawdust Caesar - the untold history of Mussolini & Fascism, 1936, pp 348-350
 23-24 January, 1933
 Alan Cassells, Fascist
 Radio 2, 16 July 2004