Prestigious Turin to Lyon railway project is highly unfeasible

13 February 2019 3 min. read
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The costs of the prestigious French – Italian railway project between Turin and Lyon far outweighs the benefits, according to a cost-benefit analysis performed by the Italian government.

The study, which was conducted by consultants on the request of the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, found that the full programme would result in an economic loss of between €7 billion and €8 billion. Using a cost-benefit analysis, also known as an economic impact analysis, the researchers assessed the benefits of a faster and director route between the two cities, and offset that against the costs of building, running and maintaining the rail track over a period up to 2035. 

Once operational, the railway would shorten the travel time between Turin and Lyon by three hours, from the current seven hours to around four hours. This would benefits businesses that operate in the Franco-Italia region, but also boosts tourism and other travel between adjacent cities in the region.

Key bottleneck in the project is the 58 kilometre tunnel through the Alps connecting the Italian city of Susa with France’s Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. The tunnel alone is estimated to cost circa €8 billion. According to the consultants, looking at alternatives would hardly change the conclusion of the analysis – a slimmed-down version of the tunnel or a different route would jeopardise the travel time benefit, in turn significantly lowering the programme’s upside.

New Turin - Lyon railway link would shorten travel by 3 hoursCommenting on the report, Danilo Toninelli, a 5-Star politician and Transport Minister, said: “As everyone can now see for themselves, the numbers of this economic and transport analysis are extremely negative. It is now up to the government to make a decision.” 

Reports in Italian media suggest that the project is strongly dividing the Italian government coalition. The anti-establishment party Five Star Movement (M5S) campaigned against the initiative for years, meanwhile, right-wing nationalist party Lega is in favour of the megaproject.

The news comes at a time when Italy and France –respectively each other’s second biggest trading partners – have seen their relations cool amid political pressures between Rome and Paris. Last week, France’s President Emmanuel Macron recalled the French ambassador in Rome last week, after Luigi Di Maio, deputy prime minister and political leader of M5S, had visited several of the leaders of ‘gilets jaunes’ movement. 

France has been the motor behind the project, insisting on the long term benefits it would bring to economy and society. However, in the principle agreement outlined, Italy would have to pay 35% of the project, with France paying 25% and the European Union funding the remainder. In the report provided to the Italian government, the consultants warn that if Italy decides to pull out of the deal, it would have to pay €4.2 billion in penalty’s and compensation. Continuing would however cost between €10 billion and €11.6 billion.