Sunday protest against rail tunnel through Italian Alps

Published 31 March 2008

Protesters in the thousands continue to oppose a super-fast rail link between Turin and Lyon; plan calls for digging a new tunnel through the Italian Alps

Difendiamo l’acqua — No TAV” (“We defend the water, no TAV”; TAV stands for Treno Alta Velocità [super-fast train], which is both the train being developed and the name of the company developing it) — these were the signs carried by thousands of demonstrators yesterday, demonstrators who campaigned against a multi-billion-euro project to bore a tunnel through the Italian Alps to create a high-speed rail link between Turin, Italy, and Lyon, France. In Chiomonte, in northwestern Italy’s Susa Valley, diehard opponents of the project, lined up to buy a symbolic square metre of land each along the route of the planned rail line. More than 1,250 activists including ecologists, artists, and intellectuals are involved in the initiative to oppose the tunnel, which has an estimated pricetag of €7.6 billion ($12 billion). Several thousand others have gathered in the town to signal to the authorities that no one can change the mind of the protest movement that has dubbed itself the Indians of the Valley. “This tunnel isn’t needed. The old (1871) rail line under Mount Cenis will always be enough for traffic that is not going to increase,” said organizer Alberto Perino. “You don’t buy a Ferrari when you can’t afford a dentist for your children,” he told AFP, adding that the project would create longstanding debt as well as “causing considerable ecological damage by draining the valley’s water resources.” He added: “Ravaging nature to gain a few minutes between Lyon and Turin is madness.”

An extraordinary commissioner and 57 meetings with the mayors of the 23 towns directly affected by the project have failed to dissuade its opponents, who have mounted sometimes violent protests involving up to 80,000 people over the past three years. “We approached the mayors because it’s clear that they are the ones who can liaise between people and the tunnel project,” said the extraordinary commissioner, Mario Virano, an architect and professor at the University of Venice. He designed the Frejus road tunnel between Modane, France, and Bardonecchia, Italy — along the planned rail route linking Lyon and Turin — which opened in 1980. A new Italian government to be elected in mid-April will likely be headed by the centre-right whose base is in the north.