The pre-history of the Trenitalia E403 series (orginally plannd as E402C series) is a long one, characterized by technical difficulties, downgrading, delivery delays, and alternative purposes. It has resulted in a small batch of multi-purpose, multi-system locomotives, for which the operator has difficulties to find a suitable purpose.
The E403 is also an almost unique project for its time. During the 00s, Bombardier, Siemens and Alstom were leading the market for these kind of locomotives, with their standardized platforms. Trenitalia wanted their 'European' locomotive to be developed and built in Italy, and Italian manufacturer of rolling stock AnsaldoBreda accepted this challenge. Once there was the plan to use the E403 for international (freight) services towards France and over the Alps. But this proved to be just too ambitious. The E403 got too expensive, technically challenging. This resulted in technical downgrading (removing the 15kV AC and 1,5kV DC part) and thus reducing the service domain of the E403. Services in Germany, Austria, France where no longer an option, so Trenitalia decided that the E403 would become the locomotive to haul fast freight trains on both the standard italian network (3kv DC) and optionally its high speed lines (Direttissima, 25kV AC).
Now (May 2012) we see the E403 only being used for just normal freight trains. They maybe deserve better, they can do more. They have a distinct character and a top speed of 180 kph. The future will learn.