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New Rail Line Sparks Mass Protests in Italy

No TAV Protestors in italy

Last weekend and the weekend before violence marred the commencement of works on a new high speed rail line between Turin in Italy and Lyon in France, the so-called TAV.

The abbreviation TAV, which can been seen in many Italian newspapers at the moment, stands for Treno Alta Velocità – which is High Speed Train, in English.

Italy’s government says the new rail line is essential, protesters disagree vehemently.

Yesterday, some 200 people were injured in running battles with police in the Val di Suza area of northern Italy where the new line is being constructed. Protesters launched stones and police replied with tear gas.  The incident  made the headlines of Italy’s newspapers this Monday.

What is the protest all about?

Italy’s government wants to build the new Turin to Lyon rail connection saying it is essential to the creation of a pan-European transport corridor.

No TAV Movement

No TAV Protestors in italy
No TAV Protestors in italy

The No TAV movement formed at the start of the 1990s, but has been ever more active since 2003 and the movement’s protests have attracted up to 80,000 people.

The TAV schemes detractors, namely those who live in the area through which the new high speed rail line will pass, say that the construction of a new line is not necessary, will damage the environment in the area, and is far too expensive. Moreover, it is argued that developing an existing line would cost less and produce the same benefits.

Primarily, the new line would be for the transport of goods, not passengers.

Those against the project also argue that the cost of the scheme will inevitasbly exceed current estimates – as this always seems to be the case with public works projects in Italy. Indeed, spiralling costs seem to affect public works projects in many other countries around the world – not just in Italy.

Other reasons for discontent are tunnelling through mountains containing uranium and asbestos, an activity which, protesters argue, may well lead to environmental contamination as it is feared that uranium and asbestos laden winds will blow containments towards Turin.

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No TAV Protests in 2005
No TAV Protests in 2005

Noise pollution is also a feared consequence of the operation of the new high-speed rail line, especially seeing as it will pass through narrow sound-amplifying mountain valleys.

There are other reasons which give those contrary to the project cause for concern – such as safety concerns regarding the length of the porposed new tunnels and how acciedents can be managed.

On top of all the above, which is not a complete list, there is also the worry that the new line will be poorly maintained. Apparently, Italy’s national rail operator, the state run Ferrovie Dello Stato group does not have enough funds to keep its current network in good condition. This being the case, or so those against the Turin-Lyon line argue, how can the maintenance and safety of the new line be guaranteed? Having experienced the poor condition of Italy’s rail rolling stock personally, I can certainly relate to such worries.

Despite the ugly protests, construction of the The Turin-Lyon line is forging ahead.

Details of protesters concerns can be found in this Wikipedia entry, which is in Italian: No TAV

Dodgy Public Works in Italy

Knowing Italy and the levels of corruption which seem to follow in the wake of huge public works, such as this rail line, I suspect that the Val di Suza residents can expect to see several new sub-standard residential developments spring up in their area. This, I was told by friends who rented a house on such a development, is what happened in a charming little lakeside village called Varenna which sits on the shores of Lake Como. Apparently,  money and materials were syphoned off from the construction of a bypass to construct a sub-standard residential complex.

I’m fairly certain Italians can supply plenty of other examples of public works fiddles – such as abandoned hospitals, odd airports and the various cases in which the roofs of schools have collapsed in at least one case on pupils heads. Deaths have occurred.

Oh, and the name of the managing director of Italy’s state railway company, the Ferrovie Dello Stato, has come up in connection with the so-called P4 corruption network, investigations into which are still very much on-going.

Perhaps the residents of Val di Suza do have some cause for concern after all.

Images from Wikipedia no TAV entry.

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