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Focus: transit

Jun 10, 2020
The strain placed on people and nature by transit traffic in the narrow Alpine valleys is a running sore in European transport policy, and not only at the Brenner Pass. This is nonetheless today’s hotspot for dramatically increasing truck traffic and air pollution, with the population plagued by permanent traffic jams and noise pollution, in part also caused by ever more freight trains.
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Of a total of 53.8 million tonnes of goods transported across the Alps in 2018, 72% were transported by road. While Switzerland is experiencing a decline in the number of trucks thanks to a high heavy goods vehicle levy (toll) calculated on the basis of capacity and the worlds’ longest railway tunnel, the newly opened Gotthard Base Tunnel, the Alpine valleys in northern Italy and France at the Mont Cenis/Fréjus crossings are suffering from far too high a road traffic load. In Switzerland only 30% of a total of 39.6 million tonnes (2018) of goods crossing the Alps is transported by road, but in France the figure is 86% of a total of 24.7 million tonnes. On the eastern ridge of the Alps, between Veneto and East Tyrol, there is even the threat of another transit motorway, the A27, also known as “Alemagna”. The more goods from China that in future land in northern Italian ports, the more urgent this problem will become.

CIPRA’s demands: a reduction in Alpine transit traffic

At the meeting of delegates, held in Altdorf in October 2019 and at the end of April 2020, CIPRA’s national and regional organisations adopted the following demands as the basis for their activities in transit traffic policy.

  • The volume of Alpine transit traffic must be fundamentally reduced, better managed and shifted to more environmentally friendly transport routes.

-        The construction of new high-level Alpine transit routes[1] must be avoided.

-        The volume of road traffic on transit routes must be regulated and reduced.

-        For each Alpine crossing, maximum permissible quantities for truck journeys per year[2] must be defined for goods transit. Trading of these quotas must be examined (Alpine transit exchange).

-        Congestion on transit routes, especially in regard to road transit, must be avoided by means of a best route strategy[3].

-        Unnecessary transport (e.g. empty runs) must be avoided.

-        National states are called upon to enable an efficient pan-European rail freight network with the appropriate infrastructure (loading stations, access routes, expansion of existing connections, etc.).

-        Dangerous goods must be transported by rail.

-        Freight transport must not lead to the population being subject to further pollution (noise emissions). In narrow Alpine valleys in particular, where the topography can cause sound to travel very far, only the most modern, low-noise rolling stock may be used for rail transport.

  • CO2 emissions for all Alpine transit traffic (rail and road) must be reduced to zero (0) as part of the pan-European efforts to achieve climate neutrality[4] by 2050.
  • Compliance with EU limits (NOx, particulate matter, noise, etc.) on transit routes and in Alpine conurbations must be ensured under all circumstances.
  • Within the perimeter of the Alpine Convention, the maximum speed must be limited to 100 km/h on roads with separate lanes and at least two lanes in each direction, otherwise 80 km/h.
  • Within the perimeter of the Alpine Convention, a general ban on overtaking by heavy goods vehicles is to be imposed, applicable to heavy goods vehicles on roads with separate lanes and only two lanes in each direction.


Data on the volume of goods in Alpine transit (Ministry of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications of Switzerland, 2019): (de)

[1] According to Art. 11, para. 1 of the Transport Protocol of the Alpine Convention: “The Contracting Parties shall refrain from building new high-level roads for transalpine traffic”. According to Art. 2/Definitions, transalpine traffic is defined as “traffic with destination and source outside the Alpine region”; high-level roads are “all motorways and multi-lane roads, free of intersections or with similar traffic effects”.

[2] It is necessary to examine in more detail whether the most sensible regulatory variable should be HGV journeys or net tonnes as this will result in, among other things, different steering effects.

[3] Best route strategy = shortest route = avoiding detours for cost reasons. This also means avoiding unnecessary CO2, noise and pollutant emissions.

[4] A Clean Planet for all – European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy / Bruxelles, 28.11.2018 / Art. 2: The aim of this long-term strategy is to confirm Europe’s commitment to lead in global climate action and to present a vision that can lead to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through a socially-fair transition in a cost-efficient manner (

Filed under: Transit