Monday, March 12, 2007

Who are these guys?

The romance goes off the rails:

The romance of sleeper train travel in Italy has taken on a distinctly wild west edge as a new breed of Butch Cassidy outlaws target night trains for stick-ups.

Devotees of continental couchette culture who expect to be woken up at their destination by a polite porter bearing a cappuccino are increasingly startled to find the porter beaten and bleeding and their luggage missing.

"Italian sneak thieves have always operated on the trains here, but this is a new generation of eastern Europeans who go armed with knives and stab and lock up the guard when challenged," said Dario Balotta, transport secretary for the CISL union in Lombardy.

The modus operandi of the gangs owes much to the memories of the cowboy bandits of Hollywood fame. Three to four men pose as passengers to board the trains, which are often heading south from Milan, subdue the guard, rob the couchettes and then pull the emergency cord to enable them to jump off and be picked up by accomplices in the countryside.

Last year there were 29 such robberies, up from eight in 2005 and only four in 2004. One night journey in December even witnessed a brawl between two rival gangs over the right to rob the train they had boarded.

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