Naples - Although he has accumulated titles and presidencies and held prestigious positions throughout in his life, he is still known to everyone as “the professor,” a title to which Ennio Cascetta is particularly attached.
He calls himself a perfectionist, and admittedly not an easy personality.
Many describe him as a great expert, rigorous, confident, super-prepared, with huge self-esteem although perhaps a bit difficult and aloof.
But those who know him well insist that he is has a certain je-ne-sais quoi that others don’t, and he rightly knows it, and is also funny when he is with friends and is at ease.
Tenacious and determined, he is excited to see the projects that he has worked on carried to completion.
He is a tireless walker, a life-long fan of Naples football club, a film lover, an avid reader, with one constant in his professional life: transportation systems in all of their permutations.
He studies them, analyses them, designs them, puts them in context, and follows them incessantly.
You are currently the sole director of Rete Autostrade Mediterranee (RAM), president of the Naples Metro and a professor of Transport Planning. In which of these roles are you the most comfortable?
“I am a university professor, even though I am on leave, who has taken on the challenge of seeing ideas and projects through to their concrete, practical realization. Perhaps my education as an engineer and my character have helped me. I like the world of transport in all its aspects, and I like to study it in depth. I also like to see projects implemented and help change things for the better. In this sense I feel comfortable in all three roles.”
In your experience as head of the Department of Transportation in the Campania Region under the Bassolino junta, you were appreciated for your work on the construction of the Naples subway, for the start of the Metrò del Mare and the Campania airport system. You then became an adviser to the Minister of Transportation, Graziano Delrio.
“Again, here I have to say, and not to be diplomatic, that both were very rewarding and very challenging experiences, in different ways. As a regional councillor, I had direct responsibility for proposing particular projects and creating the economic and political conditions to carry them out, such as the projects you have mentioned, but also many others that are particularly close to my heart, such as the high-speed rail network project - which is now called Naples-Bari, and the Unico Campania integrated fare system. As coordinator of the technical mission organisation for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport (MIT), I had the opportunity to put forward a new vision of transport planning at the national level, to contribute to writing the new rules for Italian ports, designing and evaluating infrastructure, in order to relaunch our logistical sector. In both experiences I had the opportunity to work with people of the highest calibre who have enriched me on a human and professional level.”
You have been visiting Boston every summer for many years to teach at MIT, which in this case refers to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“For more than 20 years I have held an in-depth course with colleagues from Massachusetts Institute of Technology - obviously the acronym MIT has repeated itself in my life. It wasn’t easy to keep a very specialized course going at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but I wanted to do it because it forced me to keep myself up to date, and it allowed me to stay in touch with the most advanced research in the transport sector, which is changing at an impressive speed.”
In July 2017 you were appointed Sole Director of RAM: what are your plans for the future of the company?
“My appointment as sole director of RAM took place at a special moment for the Italian port and logistical system, around the time of the first meeting of the National Coordination Conference for the new Port Authorities, in the middle of the reform of the ports and the entire national logistical system which Delrio had initiated, which included what were called the “water cure” and the “rail cure.” As a result, RAM, which is a public company operating in-house at the ministry, will also have to adapt its role to new and more challenging objectives. In the light of the ministry’s new policies for relaunching the logistical sector, RAM will also and above all be called upon to support the planning process provided for in the new Code of public contracts, to collaborate with the new port governance within the framework of the National Coordination Conference and to take the initiative to collect and analyse data and statistics to allow for adequate monitoring of the policies that have been put in place, and more accurate analysis of the interventions to be carried out. Therefore it is a role that will put this agile company at the heart of the reform: in the words of Luigi Einaudi, this will come to mean “learning in order to make decisions”.
RAM was created in 2004 to support the development of the Motorways of the Sea. Today, in the new logistical context, how do you see its future?
“Starting from the present: in 2016, Italy was the leading European country in terms of freight traffic on Motorways of the Sea (so-called “ro-ro” traffic, that is, lorries that board ships instead of travelling alternative sections of road), and it had grown 3.5% over the previous year’s traffic, across the whole of the Italian peninsula. With this in mind, the future I see for the MoS is even more positive because the programme for the implementation of these routes is one of the key objectives of the National Strategic Plan for the Port System and Logistics, which is now fully implemented in the context of the minister’s “water cure.” What will we get from this work? More and more goods travelling by ship, rather than by road, with cost savings for the community, less harmful emissions - also because the maritime transport sector is working with green policies more and more frequently - less traffic on the roads and an increasingly interconnected and efficient port and logistics system, which works to implement modal interchange in an intelligent manner.”
What developments are possible for Motorways of the Sea at the European level?
“Italian transport policy was drawn up in line and in harmony with European Community guidelines, so that an exceptional coincidence of views is taking place in defining the implementation of MoS, which is seen as a priority for the logistical system as a whole. At the European level, there are many opportunities for development. In particular, I am thinking of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) programme, which supports projects with common interests to MoS. This requirement is a point on which I would like to focus: Europe is also calling on the port and logistical sector to think of itself as a system, to design itself in a smarter and more integrated way.”
What has disappointed you most in your political experiences, if we can call them that?
“I must say that I was very disappointed to see the destruction or slowing down of projects to which I had dedicated so much energy and which I consider important and useful, merely because of the changing political parties heading up the administrations. It happened with the General Plan for Transportation and Logistics, which was approved in 2001 and immediately eroded by the so-called “Legge obiettivo” and a misconception about infrastructure planning. But it has happened even more in the Campania Region, where Stefano Caldoro’s junta has interrupted many important projects such as the regional metro or the metrò del mare [i.e. subway of the sea], causing inconvenience for citizens, burdens and disputes for the administration, and delaying projects such as the Naples-Bari high-speed rail line or the closure of the Naples ring metro line for years.”
Does it weigh on you that you are not home often and that you have to travel a lot for work?
“Honestly, it does weigh on me, and even more since my children left Naples. I try to go home every night, and from this point of view the high speed train helped me out quite a bit.”
What is your favourite sport?
“I have always liked sport a great deal. Football, skiing, tennis, swimming, cycling. For 10 years I have been passionate about running, and as often happens with passions in old age, I may have overdone it. I run regularly, and take part in various competitions, including the most exciting of all: the New York Marathon.”
You love film, but what kind of music do you prefer? What books do you read - when you have the time?
“I very much love film. My wife and I are a pair of passionate cinephiles. We try to go to the movies once per week and we watch lots of films on the television. I read a great deal, all sorts of things. In particular, papers on economics, metahistory, neuroscience and lots of novels.”
You have two children: what do you want for their future, have they chosen the sort of work you wanted or have they made their own decisions?
“I am very lucky because I have two magnificent children. Vittorio is an industrial engineer and is building up great experience in logistics. Priscilla is a doctor and is specialising in a truly demanding discipline, oncology. Like any father I hope that they will have good and complete lives. Unfortunately, at the moment they both work far from Naples, but my wife and I hope that events in their lives will bring them closer to home.”
Professor Ennio Cascetta, how would you describe yourself?
“A person who is passionate about his work, a bit of a perfectionist and with a difficult personality.”
What are the qualities that you cannot stand in people?
“Lack of passion, cynicism, that negative attitude that glorifies problems and difficulties rather than the possibility of change, of doing something to improve the world around us.”
If you could go back, what would you do differently in your life?
“I have made several mistakes, which like anyone else I would try not to repeat. But what I would be most careful about is trying to strike a better balance between work and my private life. I very much regret what I lost during the years of my children’s childhood and adolescence, which was when I was a regional councillor. Luckily my wife Manuela was a fantastic mother and covered for me, but I missed a great deal.”
What role do friends and family play in your life?
“Family is very important to me. It is an important point of reference throughout my life. As I said, I think that I got more than I gave.”
Are you a loner, or do you enjoy company?
“I love company, but not chaos. I like to be with a few people for a little while in order to talk, exchange opinions, and get to know each other better. In short, I prefer a dinner or a trip with a few friends to a party with hundreds of people.”
Which qualities do you appreciate about Italians, and which can’t you stand?
“It is foolish to generalise and one takes the risk of falling into cliché, but over the years I have found some personality types that are more frequent among our fellow citizens than in the other countries that I know best. Among the good qualities, I would certainly mention intelligence, taste for the beautiful, culture and creativity. Among the bad qualities, the inability to act as a team, to renounce individual interests for a broader interest, and a certain egoism.”
What is your relationship with Naples?
“It is a complex relationship. It is a city that I love, where I was born and in which I have chosen to live and work my entire life. It has an abundance of riches. It has it all: climate, natural beauty, culture, history, cuisine. But at the same time, it is a city in which one doesn’t live well, because rules are disregarded on a daily basis and state services are unable to achieve great projects or to create opportunities for growth whether economic or social. It is a city that is too tied to its past and not interested enough in its future.”
You must be proud of the Metro: which station is your favourite? “There are so many beautiful stations which have been appreciated around the world. Salvatore Rosa, Materdei, Museo, Piazza Dante, Università, and Garibaldi are architectural jewels and many act as a “compulsory museum” of contemporary art. The station that excites me most today is Toledo, although I think that the stations we are building at Municipio, Piazza Nicola Amore, Centro Direzionale and Capodichino will be magnificent.”
What football team do you support?
“Of course I support Naples, as I always have and passionately. I was a Naples fan when Maradona was playing, and when the team was playing in the 3rd and 2nd League. Of course I have very much enjoyed their performance in recent years, and I hope things will continue this way for a long time.”