After 20-year battle, protests over Italian high-speed train derail
Farmers lost the battle against a high-speed train they see as serving the economic interests of the Italian elite and causing harm to the environment.
Luca Abba, a farmer from Val di Susa, a valley that connects Italy to France, was electrocuted last February while climbing a high voltage pylon during protests against the construction of a new High Speed Railway Line (TAV) between Italy and France in a desperate attempt to resist expropriation.Skip to next paragraph
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He survived, though severe health problems persist. But the tragic incident was evidence of the tensions that have been rising for almost two decades between the valley’s local communities and the central government, culminating in violent clashes between protestors and contractors since construction finally began last summer. The project has become emblematic of a public works culture that is driven far more by politics than local need: the current rail connection is underused and environmental problems could arise.
In 1991, the Italian National Railway Co. first proposed construction of a high-speed rail line between Turin and Lyon, alongside the existing connection. It gave the green light to the project in 2001, despite reports of declining traffic of both people and goods between the two cities since 1997. Local inhabitants strongly oppose the megaproject, claiming environmental and economic reasons should prevent officials from continuing. Protests have been ongoing.
Highly toxic deposits of asbestos and uranium minerals would resurface during the building of tunnel, which “would cause environmental devastation,” says Nicoletta Dosio, a retired schoolteacher and co-founder of the movement against TAV. “The existing railway’s capacity is underused at around 20 percent: they should [first] use it.”
Conflict of interest
The high-speed railway saga fits into the narrative of Italy’s failed public works management, where business and politics often overlap. The long list of political scandals in Italy includes incidents involving the misappropriation of public funds, such as the SISMI-Telecom affair, which exposed government and corporate officials capitalizing on professional secrets that were obtained through wiretapping citizens' phone lines. The construction of the TAV has also exposed questionable business practices and nepotism.
The family-owned Gavio Group, head of the railway's general contractor Impregilo, was charged with corruption last July and accused of bribing Filippo Penati, former president of the province of Milan. CMC, a construction cooperative in Ravenna with close ties to the Democratic Party, was awarded the exploratory tunnel works, while Rocksoil, owned by the wife of the former center-right infrastructure minister Pietro Lunardi, won numerous contracts on the French side.
“There hasn’t been a parliament’s vote about TAV,” says Ugo Mattei, a professor of international and comparative law at the University of California in San Francisco. “There only is a law that dates back to 2001 that states the rules for every great infrastructure project to be realized between 2002 and 2013," leaving much leeway for politicians.