Fabrizia Pecunia, mayor of Riomaggiore and Manarola, the first two of five towns on the tourist trail and most visitors' landing point, wants to establish an “overcrowding alert”: special measures that would allow the villages to prevent any more passengers disembarking in their tiny streets once a maximum number have arrived.
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But that requires the cooperation of state railways group Ferrovie dello Stato, which would need to keep local authorities abreast of how many visitors they can expect to arrive on each train.
After the mayor issued an ordinance on the overcrowding precautions last month, Ferrovie dello Stato challenged it in the regional administrative court – which, even though it ordered the mayor to suspend the measures for procedural reasons, ruled that her council had a right to put safety above freedom of movement.
“So we'll go ahead, we'll reissue the ordinance,” Pecunia told La Repubblica, calling the decision “good news for every mayor in Italy”.
Visitors arrive at Manarola statino. Photo: DepositPhotos
Some 2.5 million visitors pack into the Unesco-listed Cinque Terre every year, most of them via the scenic train line that runs along Italy's north-west coast since access by car to the national park that surrounds them is strictly limited.
Getting from Manarola's tiny train station to its picturesque harbour involves walking through a short tunnel, which at peak times gets so packed that it has been known to take tourists up to 30 minutes to make the 100 metre crossing, Pecunia told Repubblica.
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There are also safety concerns for passengers thronging at the villages' stations themselves, which have only two small platforms barely separated from the tracks.
“We have the problem that the trains unload 300, 400 people who all come down to the harbour,” agreed the mayor of the two neighbouring Cinque Terre villages, Corniglia and Vernazza. “And then at the harbour 80, 100 people are arriving on each boat,” said Francesco Villa, who called the situation “chaos”.
A ferry heads for Manarola. Photo: Oliver Morin/AFP
While some locals have called for trains into the Cinque Terre to be made reservation-only to help manage tourist flows, the governor of the Liguria region within which the villages lie said that restricting rail access wouldn't stop people arriving by other means.
“If we block the train lines… they'll come by coach or by boat,” Giovanni Toti told Repubblica. “Before we close the borders we should try to manage the traffic and flows within those borders.”
Last month the governor called for real-time monitoring of visitors within the Cinque Terre “like in amusement parks”, including by using their cellphones to track their location and identify potential overcrowding risks. He also proposed raising ticket prices for groups or in peak season.
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Along with Venice, the Cinque Terre is one of Italy's wonders that has struggled to cope with the millions of tourists who flock to see it each year. Visitors already pay higher prices than locals to use the villages' trains, with the rail company handing over some of its extra profits to the national park to help maintain the fragile coastline.
There has been some discussion of limiting access to the area's coastal paths but, in the face of the region's lucrative tourism industry, so far it hasn't come to much.
The previous director of the national park introduced various measures to better manage tourist flows, but the government has yet to appoint a permanent replacement since he left in September 2017.