LA CIVETTA April 2019 - Page 14

SÌ TAV, NO TAV: The debate surrounding the Turin-Lyon high-speed railway

Amid years of protests, ultimatums and scandals, a project which aims to increase cohesion within Europe by connecting Italy and France via high-speed rail is instead proving to be increasingly divisive.

The planned line will provide a high-speed rail connection between Turin and Lyon, reducing the current travel time of 3 hours and 30 minutes to just 1 hour and 47 minutes. This will connect the two countries’ high-speed rail networks and is part of a larger EU initiative to connect Lyon to Budapest via the so-called Mediterranean corridor. The project is expected to be completed by 2029 and comprises 270km of high-speed rail, including the largest infrastructural challenge of the project, the 57km long Mont d’Ambin base tunnel. This tunnel will be one of the longest in the world once it is completed. However, construction is yet to begin officially and only a small section of 9km has been bored on the French side.

The project aims not only to decrease passenger travel times across the Alps, but also to increase the capacity for rail freight transport in the region. Supporters of the line suggest that freight traffic could double in the years following the completion of the project – although opponents of the project question this, as traffic along the route has actually been decreasing in recent years. Therefore, a notable movement has arisen in Italy which opposes the construction of the new railway and which has been a constant presence throughout the planning process: NO TAV (No Treno ad Alta Velocità).

Formed in the nineties in the Susa Valley in Piedmont, an area through which the proposed line would travel, the movement opposes the waste of resources and environmental damage to the area. Most importantly the high cost of construction, which was predicted to be in excess of €25 billion back in 2015, has been a point of serious contention. Additionally, there are fears that the construction of the base tunnel could cause health problems for local people as a result of uranium and asbestos within the mountains being disturbed and released into the atmosphere. Proponents of the project maintain that these fears are unfounded.

In terms of economics, however, a recent cost-benefit analysis study on the proposed line has a clear answer. The study condemns the project as a waste of public money and predicts that the costs will be disproportionate to the economic benefits by at least €5.7 billion and potentially by as much as €8 billion. This news comes following Matteo Salvini’s support for the project and statement that the project is too far gone to be cancelled, whilst La Lega’s coalition partner, il Movimento 5 Stelle, has long advocated that the entire project should be scrapped and prominent members have recently issued a statement to party leader Luigi Di Maio that they will renounce him as leader should he agree to allow the project to go ahead. The government is expected to make a final decision within the next week at the time of writing as to whether or not to continue to support the construction.

This decision must be reached soon, however, as an ultimatum has been issued by the EU, which is expected to foot 40% of the bill, that the project must commence by the end of March 2019 or they will withhold up to €300 million in funding. A move which would likely shift additional costs onto the increasingly sceptical and conflicted Italian government, which is already struggling to justify the construction to an angry and disillusioned population in Piedmont.