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In what is becoming a cause célèbre for the economic, health and environmental viability of the trans-European transport networks, the Susa residents have been vehemently protesting against plans to build a new railway line through their valley (which is just inside Italy, near the border with France).
The residents complained about health impacts of the project, its impact on transport behaviour, the environmental damage it will cause, and whether it is necessary at all as there is an existing parallel railway line, albeit in need of modernisation. Feelings have been running so high that one demonstration was reported to have attracted 50 000 protesters.
The EU views the railway line as part of the Lyon-Torino-Trieste-Ljubliana-Budapest TEN link. The corridor’s “coordinator” Loyola de Palacio proposed in December that a group of experts, all with experience in the relevant areas, should investigate the complaints of the residents.
The group reported back last month, saying the original studies carried out by Lyon-Turin Ferroviaire on traffic forecasts, and the health and environmental aspects of the project are “coherent”, effectively dismissing the residents’ complaints.
The dilemma for environmental groups is that the Commission claims the rail link is essential for developing alternatives to road transport through the Alps. A statement in January by the international Alpine protection NGO Cipra said it was not a priori against a new rail link between Lyon and Torino, but insisted any new link had to be evaluated in the context of “clear, credible and mandatory aims for the shifting of freight from road to rail, and accompanied by financial instruments to encourage such a modal shift further”.
T&E policy officer Markus Liechti said: “It is outdated thinking to believe we have to build new rail links to reduce the environmental impact of transalpine freight transport. Experience from Switzerland shows that a lot can be done to reduce the number of road transit journeys, and that is even before the new rail tunnels are opened, notably through sensible charging.
This news story is taken from the May 2006 edition of T&E Bulletin.