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Criticism of Alpine traffic policies in Brussels

Nov 26, 2014 / alpMedia
Short-sighted, inadequate, inconsistent: a recently published study commissioned by the European Parliament questions the policies and projects intended to shift freight transport onto rail. Why European support for the Lyon-Turin link is crumbling and why the Swiss electorate will have the last word.
Image caption:
A European Parliament study finds numerous shortcomings with the Lyon-Turin railway project. © erysipel /

The updated study on the European TEN-T projects was presented to the Transport Committee of the European Parliament in early November: these projects relate to the major traffic axes intended to connect European centres. Both the planned railway line with a base tunnel between Lyon in France and Turin in Italy, and the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland, form part of the analysis.

Numerous question marks over the Lyon-Turin link

The conclusion of the study on the planned new railway link between Lyon and Turin makes sobering reading. Important milestones in the planning of this major project have been missed, the cost and benefits of alternative variants have never been investigated side by side nor has there been an Environmental Impact Assessment according to the EU Directive. The first publicly available cost-benefit analysis was not produced by the promoters until 2012, i.e. twenty years after planning began. There is still no economic analysis available for the period during which the route will actually be in operation. Finally, there is a lack of transparency and public participation. On the other hand, the study questions the need for the new rail line: the calculations are doubtful, as they assume that ever more freight will have to be transported on this route. The capacity of the existing line is adequate for the next 20 years. The European Commission is now no longer committing to financing the entire project from the outset, but will review its funding contributions for each construction phase. Michael Cramer, chairman of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, sees in this reaction the beginning of a distancing from the project.

Fréjus und Gotthard: road tunnels harm rail

The Lyon-Turin railway tunnel is also queried by the authors of the study because Switzerland, France and Italy are all pushing for new road tunnels. The new and expensive railways will thus remain unused. This concern is also shared by a broad alliance of over 40 organisations in Switzerland. The Gotthard Base Tunnel will be open to rail transport in 2016, at a cost of 12 billion Swiss francs. At the same time, Government and Parliament want to expand the existing road tunnel by a second tube on account of the refurbishment works now due. The politicians’ promise is that each tube will subsequently only see single-lane use. But even today, emergency lanes are frequently converted into traffic lanes in certain sections. Signatures are currently being collected for a referendum against a second tube. The Swiss electorate may be able to decide on a coherent transport policy by June 2015: with the 1994 article on the protection of the Alps, the Swiss have already established a constitutional limit on transit traffic.

The decision to open the second tube of the Fréjus tunnel to heavy traffic has however already been made: France and Italy have decided to open the tube, which has been built for safety reasons at first.

Alpine countries must pull together

According to the European Parliament study, the expansion of the motorway through the Fréjus tunnel runs counter to both the planned rail link between Lyon and Turin and the Union’s common climate policy. All road projects facilitating the passage of trucks and all railway projects that have no appropriate accompanying policies should therefore be scrapped, say the authors of the study. A coherent policy and incentives for a modal shift from road to rail are needed for the entire region. The first priority should therefore be the creation of an Alpine-wide framework with the aim of getting goods quickly and effectively onto the rail network.

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Filed under: alpMedia 11/2014