The future of the major transalpine rail tunnel to provide a high-speed link from Turin, Italy, to Lyon, France, is in serious doubt following moves by Italy’s Prime Minister to halt the tendering process.
The company responsible for the TAV (Treno Alta Velocità) project has said in reply that the postponement could result in a loss of funding.
Various access and test tunnels have been completed, and a first 9km single bore of the twin main tunnels has been underway at the French end since 2016 as a test project.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte heads a coalition government with ministers drawn from both the anti-establishment Five Star (M5S) and the right-wing League.
The project has become an issue which has threatened the coalition, as the project is backed by the League, and opposed by the Five Star party which would like to see the funding used on road improvements.
Conte sent a letter to TELT (Tunnel Euralpin Lyon Turin), the company in charge of the construction of the Turin-Lyon project, asking it to stop immediately any activity that could produce further legal and economic constraints for the Italian State with regard to calls for tenders.
The Prime Minister said that the government and the political forces supporting it had committed themselves to “fully re-discuss” this project with the intention of interacting with France and the European Union in the light of the most recent cost-benefit analyses, without the European funding already allocated.
In its launch document, TELT described the Lyon-Turin line as representing an essential part of the Mediterranean Corridor of TEN-T (Trans-European Transport Network).
Now, in response to Conte’s letter, TELT said that the tender for the main works had been postponed, “at the request of the Italian government and with the agreement of the French government, while inviting the company to ensure that European funding is safeguarded”.
TELT said that a new postponement beyond March would result in a reduction of €300 million to the European grant.
Since Conte’s letter, however, the board of directors of TELT has unanimously approved the launching of the tender procedure for the final works of the tunnel linking Lyon and Turin, with three lots worth €2.3 billion, incorporating a withdrawal clause.
France’s Minister of Transport, Elisabeth Borne, tweeted last week that the French government had taken note of the statements by the Italian Government on the Lyon-Turin project, and that France was, for its part, convinced of the relevance of the project for trade between the two countries, and for Europe.
She added that France had always respected the wish of the Italian government to reflect on this project, and was open to discussion between the partners. She said France was in favour of the TELT board continuing the tender process during the discussions, while preserving European funding.