• Making the case for the Lyon-Turin baseline link

    Earlier in 2013, several stakeholders in the future Lyon-Turin rail link met on a French national television programme to discuss the planned project from the French point of view. TunnelTalk selected the most interesting excerpts from the programme and provide an English translation text for each below.
    1. Salvatore Alaimo, CEO of the freight forwarding Dimotrans-Group
    Alaimo sees rail transport as safer and therefore a better investment than road transport. The new rail link would provide better rail transport than the existing Fréjus tunnel route. "All kinds of products are found on roads and highways, including hazardous goods. We know from experience and statistics that the chances of accidents happening on rail are far smaller than on road. Therefore, we professional transporters are more at ease using a relatively safer mode of transportation instead of one where the driver could cope with a thousand different problems on a distance of lets say 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 kilometers."
    2. Mario Virano, Commissioner of the Italian Government
    Virano mentions the significant difference between elevations and gradients as an important benefit to the Mont d'Ambin base tunnel over the existing Fréjus tunnel route. "To get a 1,000 tonne freight train over the existing rail line and through the Fréjus tunnel, one needs three locomotives. Whereas, when travelling on plains, a single engine can pull 2,000 tonne."
    3. Olivier Klein, researcher at the Laboratoire d'économie des Transports
    "The current line indeed provides slopes too steep for rail transportation in good circumstances. Meanwhile, it is the only one available for at least the next fifteen years." François Lépine, Deputy Chairman of the Transalpine Committee, adds to the discussion that transportation by road is 60% more expensive than any other mode of transportation.
    4. Olivier Klein, researcher at the Laboratoire d'économie des Transports
    "There are other rail lines in France with much less steep slopes, on which the rail transportation is not further developing. So it is not just a problem of [rail] infrastructure. When we create industrial zones, they should be correctly connected to the rail network." Klein also addresses the Swiss practice, which according to him is "currently the only modal shift with a similar investment to Lyon-Turin." The Swiss set a goal to reduce the number of trucks that pass through Switzerland every year by 650,000, by offering better rail links. "I think this might be an argument capable of disarming a number of objections."
    5. Salvatore Alaimo, CEO of the Dimotrans-Group
    Alaimo addresses the busy roads along the Fréjus tunnel road pass: "One must have a mid-term and long-term vision, with regard to security and congestion. On certain weekday evenings, there are lines of trucks 4km to 5km long waiting for the right moment to pass as an escorted convoy of hazardous goods freight."
    6. On-site report at one of the French access tunnels
    The Mont d'Ambin base tunnel, access tunnels and associated rail link, offers local companies the opportunity to show and further develop their expertise. One of these companies is the Vicat Group from Lyon that developed more environmentally-friendly construction techniques. Philippe Faure, CEO of STAM-Travaux Group Vicat, explains how his company reuses excavated tunnel material to produce concrete aggregate. Another company involved is French TBM manufacturer, NFM Technologies.
    7. Letter of the French Prime Minister
    In a letter of the French Court of Audit, Cour des Compte, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, claims to support the plan, but expresses concerns as to the costs involved and mentions European subsidies will be required. However, he emphasises the importance of the project as part of the economic relationship with Italy. Several opponents then comment on the letter and the views of the Prime Minister.
    8. Daniel Ibanez, coordinating member of the French parties opposing Lyon-Turin
    Ibanez thinks the opposition could use overrated predictions and outdated rules to their advantage. "He (Ayrault) said everything was done according to the written rules of the game. We, as the opposing force, can only do one thing: if the rules of the game have been outdated for 20 years, one must change the rules and not use them in 2013."
    9. Stephane Pillet, Member of the French Socialist Party, Savoie
    "There was of course research performed beforehand, but as we excavate deeper, we might realise that geological difficulties are greater than expected."
    10. Luc Berthoud, UMP Mayor of La Motte-Servolex
    Berthoud, of the French political party Union pour un Movement Populaire, says members of the UMP doubt the relevance of the project. He says it is an ambitious project with excessive costs, that uses numbers from predictions and surveys that do not correspond with reaility. He concludes "everything is camouflaged."
    11. Reporter
    "In his letter, the French Prime Minister justifies the need for the Lyon-Turin tunnel. The amount of freight transport over the Alps has grown by 3.3% per year. Therefore the current rail line would not suffice."
    Lastly there is a debate about all the economic considerations. The question is how one could accrue savings while at the same time implementing mega projects. The debaters agree that investments should still be made, but one needs to look at the long term.
    12. Eliane Giraud, Deputy Chairman of Transport of the Rhône-Alpes Region
    "I believe that one needs to realise that we need to be strict as to expenditure. But we also need large investments as these are projects that will come to fruition around 2025-2030. So we go towards something in the long-term. And today's political decisions should also follow this long-term prospect."
    13. Bernard Gault, CEO of MEDEF Rhône-Alpes
    "Mrs Giraud spoke of long-term, but one needs to speak of very long-term. What would today's world be without the Suez Canal or the Channel Tunnel? When people thought of these investments, they did not think of ten or fifteen years; they were thinking of fifty years.
    14. Bernard Gault, CEO of MEDEF Rhône-Alpes
    It is clear that for the Rhône-Alpes region and for its companies, the project is a strategic element of growth. We spoke of six to eight thousand job opportunities earlier. A small detail: of the entire Lyon-Turin tunnel investment, the French will complete 75% of the works, which is an important asset for us."
    15. François Lépine, Deputy Chairman of the Transalpine Committee
    As a last statement, Lépine addresses the concerns of the French Court of Audit. The Court compiled its own etimates regarding the costs and benefits and, based on these, started questioning the project. "With all respect to the Court, this is a huge estimation error on their part. The numbers mentioned by the Court are much too high and entirely unsupported by publicly available documents."
Violent history of the Lyon-Turin rail link 28 Aug 2013
Armand van Wijck, TunnelTalk Europe Correspondent
Italy has a long tradition of violent protest, but few civil engineering mega-projects have attracted such long-term, and violent, opposition at all stages of their development - from concept and planning, right through to preparatory construction - as that faced by authorities attempting to build the twin tube Mont d'Ambin baseline tunnel. Even today, two decades on, contractors working on the Italian side of the Lyon-Turin link need police protection at the various construction sites on the Italian side. With full-scale construction of the main 57km-long baseline tunnel expected to start in 2015, Armand van Wijck of TunnelTalk discusses the explosive history of the project with Project Leader Maurizio Bufalini.
It is like a civil war that has been raging for some 20 years, according to some commentators. The Susa Valley brings Italy to its knees, claimed one memorable newspaper headline.
Protesters gather against the project in Italy

Protesters gather against the project in Italy

When the initial draft proposal for the Lyon-Turin high-speed railway project was released in 1991, communities and cities affected by the rail line and tunnel construction in Italy responded immediately by forming a group called the No TAV movement (TAV being the Italian acronym for Treno Alta Velocita, or high-speed train). Protestors have not been shy about questioning the benefits of the new rail link and about its overall environmental impact upon the Susa Valley, the location of the Italian tunnel portal and its surface route towards Turin.
"It is one of the most challenging aspects of the project," explained Project Leader Maurizio Bufalini of Turin Ferroviaire (LTF), the owner of the project. "Italy has long had a tradition of strong opposition to the State and against the system, and this project has proved no exception." When LTF started working on the Italian side, in October 2005, protesters blocked several road and rail links between France and Italy and tried to occupy the construction sites. More extreme measures followed, and a bomb was found and defused on a main road in the area. Although the incident was condemned by civil protest leaders, the Italian Government responded by turning the valley into a military zone, sending troops in to guard the area.
On 5 December 2005 Italian security forces violently evicted one of the permanent No TAV lookout posts in the valley, injuring about 20 protesters in the process. A few days later No TAV protestors responded by defiantly conducting a mass march through the valley and establishing a new lookout post.
Italian Police clash with protesters

Italian Police clash with protesters

The clashes forced a rethink by the Italian Government; the project was put on hold while the environmental impact was reassessed. An observation and oversight committee, featuring representatives of affected valley communities, was created.
"This seemed to work out at first but anarchists and political opposition groups soon found the project and the valley a good starting point to riot against the State," said Bufalini. According to Mario Virano, Special Commissioner of the Government for high-speed rail projects in Italy, a huge group of violent infiltrators from extreme left and extreme right political groups managed to mingle with the No TAV committees, aiming to engage in fights with the police and to generally aggravate the situation. "This violent faction is not looking for a solution to the objections to the project, and still grows strongly," said Bufalini. "It has no real motivation for opposing the tunnel."
40,000 protesters
Armed groups regularly attempt to besiege the area, setting up camps in locations where work is due to be carried out, not allowing workers to move forward with tunnel and railway construction. Protests sometimes degenerate into violence, with armed clashes occurring between protesters and the national army. Construction workers are often targeted. "Crews have been attacked with Molotov cocktails and other projectiles," recalls Bufalini, "and it could get worse with time."

Violence erupts between police and protestors

In May 2011 the Italian Government announced it would open the construction site of the new line in Chiomonte, but No TAV protesters prevented the first attempt to get work under way by blockading the site. On 27 June police forces were sent in to disperse the protesters with tear gas, and within a few days the eviction was complete.
But the mood and the strength of feeling against the project were not so simple to remove. On 3 July 2011, 40,000 protesters met in the Susa Valley to reiterate their claims that the rail link would have a detrimental impact upon the environment and that, in any case, the project was a waste of public money. Once again the protests turned violent; this time culminating in a two-hour confrontation with the police during which a reported 15 protesters and 188 police officers were injured.
150 reasons against
Although the European Union and the Commissioners have promised that Susa Valley will not suffer from the rail link, the No TAV movement continues to question the worthiness, cost and safety of the project. It tries to support its claims with studies, expert statements and government documents from Italy, France and Switzerland. From these materials, members of the movement compiled a document containing 150 reasons for opposing the project.
Some of the main objections are related to the environmental impacts, but there are also claims relating to health impacts, with some sections of the local community claiming that deposits of uranium and asbestos in the mountains could pose a hazard. Bufalini is unmoved by such claims. "The environment will pose no problems at all. The project is fully controlled by the Italian Minister of Environment." Furthermore, LTF studies show no uranium will be excavated during construction. "There was a possibility this might be encountered, but nobody found any uranium in other excavations in the same area," said Bufalini.

Protesters claim brutality by Italian authorities

There are then claims about future saturation of the existing Fréjus rail tunnel route (which the new baseline tunnel is designed to supplement), which contradicts calculations by LTF. According to No TAV traffic usage of the existing line could actually decline in the future, throwing doubt on the economical feasibility of the high-cost tunnel element of the Lyon-Turin link. "It is like the opposition chooses a new mantra every time," says Bufalini. "First it was asbestos, then it was uranium, then the Mafia. Nowadays it is the money. I admit the economic situation is a concern. There is not much money and there are always those who suggest investing it in something else. Italy, however, has already committed to its €3 billion financing of the project."
Work in the Susa Valley continues as LTF excavates the last access and survey tunnel at La Maddalena. Construction of the main tubes of the base tunnel is programmed to start in two years time. But it is still impossible to work on the construction sites without police protection. Despite everything, Bufalini is still proud of the project. "Against all this background of violent opposition we are now working on the project 24 hours a day. Two years ago nobody thought it was possible but now it is finally off the ground."
References
Progressing the Lyon-Turin base rail link - TunnelTalk, August 2013
Bi-national safety codes for Lyon-Turin rail link - TunnelTalk, August 2013

           

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