France, Italy battle to keep rail link on track

December 03, 2012 - 6:41:10 am

LYON: Controversial plans for a ¤26bn high-speed rail link between France and Italy will be at the centre of talks between leaders of the two countries here today.

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti are determined to press ahead with a scheme that has generated furious opposition from environmental activists on both sides of the Alps.

Both leaders see the project as emblematic of the pro-growth agenda they have jointly promoted within the European Union. This shared outlook has helped the two countries come closer than they have been in decades.

Supporters of the scheme claim it will take a million heavy lorries off the saturated roads between Italy and France, as transAlpine freight switches to rail, cutting CO2 emissions by three million tonnes per year. But the plans for a new tunnel under western Europe’s highest mountains have also come under fire.

Critics argue it could become a white elephant subsidised by unjustifiable injections of national and European funds at a time when every other area of public spending is being tightened.

It is now 21 years since the idea of the link was launched at a previous Franco-Italian summit. Back then, there was much talk of the economic benefits that would be generated by halving journey times between Lyon and Turin to two hours; and cutting the Paris-Milan time from seven to four hours.

But while the first trains are currently scheduled to travel on the new line in 2028 at the earliest, French officials acknowledge that the target may slip as budget constraints bite. AFP

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