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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.

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The “TAV is just the latest example of a transfer of public money in favor of private interest,” Mr. Mattei adds. “The Democratic Party’s favors to CMC make sense because the money is supporting the party indirectly." 

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Marco Ponti, professor of transport economics at the Polytechnic University of Milan and a World Bank consultant, says that there's no need for a new rail line connecting Turin with Lyon. “The traffic is very low, because Lyon is in the middle of nowhere: The existing line has a capacity of 20 tons of goods, and currently carries only three." He adds that the project "means enormous profits for builders and banks.” 

A long history

Works were slated to begin in October 2005, but protesters have blocked them for years, literally chasing construction workers away. A few months later in December, the police nearly destroyed the local protest movement’s "No TAV" sit-in, after which 50,000 protesters attacked and destroyed the site. 

Relations between the authorities and local people became so strained that the government formed a technical committee to negotiate with local mayors. In 2008, they reached an agreement to build the TAV, but many still disagreed. Insiders claim that the negotiations had not taken into account independent reports suggesting that the railway was dangerous for the environment and economically unsound.

Italy would have lost European funds if the works had begun later than June 2011, spurring the police to evacuate a new sit-in prompted by the renewed activity. The next month, 70,000 people occupied the area but were quickly dispersed. A series of fights, road blocks, and spontaneous demonstrations followed, causing the indictment of 42 people who were accused of inciting violence, inflicting personal injuries, and damaging public property. In an attempt to defuse the situation, the technical committee proposed a compromise. A cheaper and smaller rail line, consisting on just one tunnel, should reduce the cost to 3 billion euros, it said. 

Unhappy ending

This lower-cost project has not been without its critics. 

A number of professors at the Polytechnic University of Turin stated in a report that the revised proposal lacks a proper analysis of its economic sustainability. “[T]he government says there will be no environmental damages, either direct or indirect. That’s wrong: any kind of work, big or little, will generate some impact, and in this case the danger posed by asbestos deposits has been played down.” 

In May 2012, local elections in Val di Susa turned into a referendum on the railway. The Democratic Party and Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom Party joined forces by presenting candidates supporting the project, but were still defeated by candidates from the No-TAV movement in many towns. 

Meanwhile, construction continues and critics remain skeptical. “Nobody will transport its goods by trucks to trains: loading times are too long,” Mr. Ponti sighed.

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