Seven and a half years after the initial agreement between France and Italy to build a high-speed rail link between Lyon and Turin, the project has cleared its last legal hurdle. Local authority officials in Italy’s Susa Valley have reached an agreement with the government in Rome, meaning the plans can be submitted for approval in mid-July. Ten kilometres of tunnel have already been excavated on the French side of the Alps, but across the border, work has not begun.
The plans call for a 200 kilometre rail link between the two cities, 53 kilometres of which will be in a tunnel under the Alps, and at a cost of almost eight billion euros. The link will carry 40 million tonnes of freight per year, taking the equivalent of two million lorry-loads off the roads, along with seven million passengers. The Lyon-Turin link is the final piece in one of Europe’s most high-profile projects – a 5,000 kilometre link known as Corridor Five, which it is hoped will link Lisbon in the West with Kiev in the East by 2020.
The project will offer added support for the Rhine-Danube axis, and should also help integrate the EU’s recent joiners. It is hoped it will also boost the competitivity of the southern European economies of Portugal, Spain, Italy and France.
The Lyon/Turin link has been vaunted by its supporters as a means of preserving the delicate Alpine environment, as it will take away the thousands of lorries crossing the mountains every day. 85 percent of goods between France and Italy are transported by road, consuming five times more fuel than the train.
But the project has also had its detractors since it was first mooted in the 1990s. Some campaigners have vowed to prevent the work going ahead. Some have criticised the cost as exorbitant, while others fear an increase in construction traffic during the twelve years that work is due to take place. It has also been claimed that blasting may release asbestos and naturally-occurring uranium into the environment.