Talk of the Dolomiti Train has returned. There are many reasons to explain why it has returned to become the subject of public debate. In 2026, the Brenner Base Tunnel is expected to be completed. It will be the longest railway tunnel in the world, passing under the Alps between Fortezza, Italy and Innsbruck, Austria. It will allow trains to travel in 25 minutes rather than 80 minutes thanks to shortened distance and improved slope of the line. Part of Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), it will belong to the corridor between Palermo and Berlin, improving connections to many cities along it.
There is also the hosting of the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in Milan and Cortina. The international sporting event would be an opportunity to have a new train link towns such as Trento, Trento, Bassano, Feltre, Belluno, Calalzo, Cortina, Dobbiaco, Bressanone and Bolzano.
Then there is the rethinking of mobility in the Dolomiti area. Since 2009, when it was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, there has been a growing emphasis on limiting vehicle traffic to preserve its environment.
But critics see it as an extremely costly project that offers a dubious economic return. There is also the disruption that construction of such a line would have on the delicate and uncontaminated environment such as in places like Gruppo del Sella (Sella Group) or Cinque Torri (Five Towers).
But there was already such a train. The historic train of the Dolomiti helped make the 1956 Winter Olympic Games a success at Cortina d’Ampezza.
Up until 1964, the line connected Calalzo, Cortina and Dobbiaco. Heros Deppi, the last head of the train station at Cortina d’Ampezzo, remembers in the pages of Il Cadore how “the train brought people from all over the world, politicians, TV personalities, trendy singers, directors, actors, among which Sofia Loren and Alberto Sordi.” He said the train was cancelled “ignoring the cultural and touristic important that it represented, that little white and blue train.”
For more than 40 years, the train was the main connection between Val Pusteria and Cadore, uniting the provinces of Bolzano and Belluno.
The idea of a mountain train was first conceived under the Habsburg Empire in 1865. The first sections of the line were built by Austrian and Italian soldiers during the First World War. They were completed in 1920, having the train open for service the following year.
Improved during the following decades, the Calazo-Dobbiaco Railway played an important role in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games, carrying athletes, organisers, judges, spectators, as well as public figures such as Giovanni Gronchi, then-president of the republic. It carried up to 7,000 passengers a day - a modest number compared with the capacity of contemporary train services.
As passenger numbers declined and maintenance costs rose in successive years, the train service along the Calalzo-Dobbiaco line was curtailed and eventually ended on May 17, 1964.
Today, there is a new plan. It would extend the line to have it circle around the Dolomiti. It is not by chance that it is called the Dolomiti Ring.
This new train service would allow people to travel from Venice to Cortina d’Ampezzo in less than two hours. Bringing the wonderful scenery of the Dolomiti closer to all the cities of the area. It would also have a section that would allow it to climb up to the Tofane, much like the Bernina Express.
But critics see the danger of opening a construction site in this mountain context. At the heart of the project, however, lies the principles of sustainability. In fact, the new Dolomiti Train would have a low environmental impact with trains powered by hydrogen.
Meantime, the Dolomiti Ring, as emphasised by one of its supporters, Mauro Gilmozzi, a former regional government official responsible for infrastructure and the environment, most of the ring already exists.
What plays in its favour are two public works in Alto Adige. There is the recent opening of the historic railway from Val Venosta to Val Pusteria. And its was Helmuth Moroder, a regional mobility expert, to project a train between Cortina and Bolzano, able to reach Scillar.
The Strutture Trasporto Alto Adige (STA), which had the task of studying the feasibility of the project, nevertheless has given it a negative opinion. But the opinion is conditional. If the train were to arrive at Cortina, the number of passengers would rise, making it feasible.