Lyon – Turin: countdown to the TGV

Article published on June 8, 2007
Article published on June 8, 2007
The European Parliament approved funds for the new European transport networks on 23 May, leaving Italy with two months to prepare its proposals

Countdown to the TGV of disharmony: the high-speed train that would cover the 200 km or so between Lyon and Turin, the so-called Corridor 5 of the Pharaonic railway line that will link Kiev and Lisbon.

Euro MP: 'TGV will not happen'

At the end of May, The EU unfroze a budget of almost 8 million Euros destined for European transport routes. Among the projects to be financed will be the Corridor 5, the Italian section of the rail link, which came about as a result of an Italian-French agreement in 2001. It has caused a stir in Europe's press because of protests by inhabitants of the Alpine valley of Susa, through which the new rail-line will pass by means of an underground tunnel.

The people of Susa want to defend both their land and their health: they fear that construction work would release asbestos and uranium deep within the mountains. The protective iron curtain that citizens and politicians have drawn about themselves in recent years has driven both the Italian government and European administration to distraction. The protestors have even impeded environmental tests and have rejected out-of-hand any talk of a deal. They don’t want the Lyon-Turin rail-line, not even at the cost of damaging Italian commerce with the rest of Europe or slowing the region's development.

MEP Vittorio Agnoletto, defender of the cause for Susa's people, responded to the final stages of the funding presentation, scheduled to bear fruit at the end of July: 'The countdown has begun. A small effort and we will have won. The TGV will not pass through the Susa Valley.'

Three alternatives; one revolution

The Berlusconi and Prodi administrations have both made every effort to establish a dialogue with the locals to reach some kind of common agreement. MEP Mercedes Bresso, president of the Piamonte region and elected by a large proportion of the populace, has also tried to make the inhabitants of the disputed zone see the importance of the project, both logistically and commercially. She defines it as 'essential and inevitable.'

However, protestors have not been silenced. As a result, since 2005-2006, Transport Minister Antonio di Pietro and European Commissioner for Transport Jacques Barrot have looked for alternatives. Additional to the original plan, they have investigated the possibility of using the existing, but out-of-date and overloaded, line between Turin and Bardonecchia, and also a section diverted from Susa to the Valley of Sagon. Even this hasn’t satisfied the protestors, and the inhabitants of the neighbouring valley have joined the ranks of the No to the TGV campaign in order to defend their little brown hill.

To catch or miss the train

That the patience of those in Brussls is running out has been clear for some time. At the Italian-French summit in Paris in December, the already bad mood was worsening, given that in the previous months, the inhabitants of the Rhône-Alpes region, which forms part of the Turin-Lyon trajectory, began to sympathise with their Italian neighbours. Those with a vested interest have been invited by Brussels to present their final proposals in the summer, to be evaluated in September so that the financing can begin.

Since funding was approved on 23 May, the wheels must be put in motion with greater haste than planned: deadlines are clearly defined, but so are the protestors’ lines of defence. Italian politicians can’t afford to let this train loaded with Euro-goodies leave town without them. But Susa's people are just as prepared to continue their hillside resistance for a few months more. No longer are they liberating themselves from fascism, but rather defending themselves against progress.