The huge 36-mile tunnel from France to Italy plagued by so many issues it’s 15 years late

The Turin–Lyon high-speed line, also known as Trasporto Alta Velocità (TAV), is a railway set to connect the two bustling cities in Italy and France respectively.

Upon completion, this line will feature more than 168 miles of track and a 35.7-mile tunnel – which would make it the longest rail tunnel in the world, just a few feet longer than the existing 35.5-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland.

This massive project was first envisioned in the 1990s, but is still several years away from being finished after being marred by protests and issues.

The French and Italian governments commissioned the first study on the feasibility of TAV in 1991.

A decade later, while groups had already emerged to protest against this project, the then leaders of the countries signed a first agreement on TAV, in which they committed to carry out the international section of the rail line.

The project encountered its first major setback in 2005, after the Italian government was preparing the worksite for the creation of a tunnel in the border city of Venaus.

In December of that year, some 30,000 people led by the No TAV protest group flooded the area to occupy the worksite and prevent the project from starting.

In the following years, the No TAV remained vocal in their protest against the rail line, concerned over its utility, its costs and its environmental impact.

The works on the Italian side eventually began in 2011, after a definitive project had been approved and a group of experts created by the government in Rome had looked into the pros and cons of TAV.

During the late 2010s, protests and concerns about the project continued to arise in Italy, even among the then particularly influential Five Star Movement party.

Only in 2019, the then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced works on the central, cross-country section of the line linking Italy’s Susa and France’s Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne would go ahead, as “not creating it would be more expensive than completing it”, he claimed.

The French side of the operation, the supporters of which hope will boost rail freight and reduce the transport of goods via roads, has also experienced issues over the years.

In June 2023, thousands of protesters voicing concerns over the ecological impact and costs of the tunnel gathered in the French border town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

While works on the project are now ongoing, the main section of TAV isn’t expected to be completed before the early 2030s.

The cost of the cross-country section, measuring around 40 miles, was deemed to be around £7.35billion (€8.6bn). While Italy will pay 35 percent of the total cost and France 25 percent, the remaining 40 percent will be financed by the European Union.

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