Ferrovie dello Stato (FS) is offering 15 to 60 per cent discounts on 12 high-speed railway routes in order to gain an dvantage over the airlines on travel between Italy's largest cities.

Discounts are on a sliding scale based on how far in advance travellers buy their tickets. There is a 15 per cent discount for booking a week in advance, a 30 per cent discount for booking two weeks in advance and a 60 per cent discount for booking at least a month ahead.

The special offer follows the completion in December of the high-speed railway link between Rome and Milan. The most important route in Italy, service between Rome and Milan, has long been the dominion of local airlines such as Alitalia and Air One, which claimed 90 per cent of the route's traffic in autumn of last year.

However, with the high-speed line reducing train-travel time between the two cities from four and a half hours to three and new discounts bringing one-way ticket prices as low as