Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Tue Jul 5th, 2011 at 09:18:47 PM EST
There have been some comments in various salons about the TAV, by our notably well-informed ET train buffs, that I found enlightening, (Thanks DoDo!), but tonight I read this by Marco Travaglio, which goes quite deeply into the cons regarding this inflammatory social division rending the harmony of the Val di Susa, with tens of thousands including local mayors protesting the top-down, undemocratic way this decision to go ahead with the project was made.
I understand too little to say anything original on this apparently very thorny subject, yet being struck by how violently local and state force has been used to subdue resistance, and even allowing for a somewhat hyped tone adopted by all sides in the matter, (a fault Italian media has in spades), there seems little middle ground between the two factions, the local peoples' will to be governed in ways they approve of and feel included in, and the heavy handed approach taken by the authorities.
Therefor I decided to diary it, to see if others who may have not seen the references in the Salons, might have more links, information, or opinions/experiences to share regarding this project, or indeed the wider context of rail rollout and freight transport in Europe, and why this project may or may not be worthy, in terms of EROI, in terms of social upheaval, and the democratic rights of local citizens to determine their NIMBY-ness in the face of State-level decisions.
Quotes from Marco Travaglio's essay below the fold...
Beppe Grillo's Blog
Facts versus unsubstantiated claims
I really enjoyed that article that Luca Mercalli wrote for Il Fatto Quotidiano, the one in which he reiterated all the reasons for not building the TAV, one by one, with facts in hand, scientific facts, 140 pages of observations by Eng. Sandro Plano, President of the Mountain Community, Prof. Angelo Tartaglia of the Turin Polytechnic and Prof. Marco Ponti of Milan University. Now these are the people we should be listening to, not the likes of Fassino, Matteoli, Chiamparino and Maroni, who have no idea what they're talking about but are very aware of the interests that lie behind this construction site. Mercalli talks about "soundproofed" journalists and urges his colleagues to get back to the facts of the matter, to base their comments on the figures and on the data and to disprove them, if they can, instead of merely climbing on the bandwagon and praising a project such as this!
You all know Marco Ponti I'm sure. He was even interviewed by Beppe Grillo's Blog. Marco Ponti is not just some slap-happy environmentalist. Marco Ponti is an expert on the topic of public works. For example, when it came to the referendum regarding water resources as a public asset, he came out against and he had the guts to explain why he was against it. Here at Il Fatto Quotidiano, if anyone has something to say, we are fully committed to allowing them to express their views, as long as they are authoritative and even if they differ totally from our own views, so in this case we're not talking about some or other extremist but rather someone who has eaten and drunk public works from a very young age. His stand regarding the TAV is very clear indeed, but why? Well, he reckons that the project is just not worth the trouble, and that without even considering the environment. Just from the perspective of utility, it makes no sense to spend 20 or 30 billion Euro of public funds to choke up one or more mountain valleys with construction sites for the next twenty years in order to create something that we now already know will land up being totally useless! Already 30 years ago there were serious doubts as to whether we really needed it, but today we know for sure that it is useless. He breaks down all the commonly held beliefs regarding the strategic importance of this project and it would appear that it is extremely difficult to justify even the official cost and traffic estimates, which are obviously somewhat optimistic in any event. So let's stop calling it by that ridiculous fig-leaf camouflage name of "high capacity" because Italy will never match the number of goods trains running around Spain and France. Another cliché they would have us believe is that this line will be one of the European corridors, which may be true but is equally ridiculous because the number of so-called priority corridors has increased to such an extent that there are now 30 such structures that entirely cover the whole of Europe and while no Country would turn up its nose at the thought of a priority corridor on its territory, there are now simply too many of them, namely 30!
The article has some very interesting background on the Lega 'heavies' who are huffing and puffing, if you are interested in just how hypocritical politicians can get away with being here in Italy, a country with thousands of years of civilisation, yet no translatory word in its vocabulary for 'accountability', leaving Italians to borrow the English to express this supposedly novel concept... I encourage you to read the whole article, if you have a barf bag handy.
More MT data-crunching to be toothcombed by our resident ET specialists...
Beppe Grillo's Blog
We will lose European funding, equally true and equally ridiculous! At the very worst we would stand to lose 3 billion Euro of funding, although the initial funding would only amount to 600 million Euro, on a forecast total cost of 22 billion Euro, so we would have to chip in the rest, and these are only estimated costs so, in fact, Italy would be saving some 11 billion Euro by not building this line. Just imagine, by cancelling this project we would already have 25% of our current budget. If we were to charge potential passengers and goods shippers the kind of fees that would cover at least part of the construction costs, it would be so expensive that no one would use it anyway. Goods transporters and passengers happily pay the costs involved in building motorways but they don't want to know about paying for the construction of the high speed railway line. At best they may be prepared to cover the normal running costs.
4) Otherwise someone else will create another corridor to the north of the Alps and they will steal our thunder. To put it bluntly, this is just more bullshit! Someone really should respond to these lies. Then he addresses the technical aspects of this project, which are also mere bullshit according to Prof. Marco Ponti, for example, the TAV will take a whole lot of trucks off our roads, which will result in huge environmental benefits. The Professor states that, to date, this has never happened, not even in France, which is the European heartland of high-speed trains. The forecast passenger numbers on the new line, if and when it eventually becomes operational, will be very small. 16 trains per day on a line with a design capacity of 250 trains per day. Paradoxically, however, even if this were true, the emissions resulting from the construction works would eliminate the hypothetical savings forecast for the following 20 years.
According to a front page article in "Il Sole 24 Ore" a few years ago, with this railway line in place, Italian goods trains would also be able to utilise the French and Spanish high-speed lines. Pity that goods trains cannot use the French and Spanish high-speed railway lines in any event. As anyone who knows anything about trains will know, goods transporters are not at all interested in speed, but are more interested in excellent reliability and low costs, so this high-speed line is of no use whatsoever, not even for freight transportation! Once the economic crisis ends, the capacity of the existing rail link will soon be taken up by the normal traffic growth, however, traffic levels on that line were already declining well before the onset of the current economic crisis, as was the case on the motorways and not only on the railways, so you can imagine what will happen when the crisis ends, what with the increased competition provided by the new Sempione line through Switzerland. Anyway, perhaps it's better to stick to the official figures, which show that currently around 3 million tons of freight travel on the existing line that has recently been upgraded and now has the capacity to carry some 20 million tons. Official international rail traffic growth estimates now appear to be some 40% too high, but even if we assume that this sky-high growth estimate actually occurs, the first lines and areas to suffer will be the more congested ones, so this would in any event be a very low priority investment, especially when public funds are already tight and no private investors are in the least bit interested. In conclusion, it is also important to remember that 75% of the traffic, the congestion and the costs to the companies and to the environment are incurred in the metropolitan areas and not on the long-distance lines, the nit must be said that there really are many other things that are far more urgent. If there was any sense to the project, the protesting valley residents should count their blessings and shut up in the interests of the common good, but in this case it really seems that they are indeed right to protest, at least partly right because when this kind of public money is being thrown away purely for reasons of short-sighted lobbying and political visibility, then it's no wonder that we are headed in the same direction as Greece. This notwithstanding, it would appear that there is yet another possible plan whose usefulness is no less dubious but is at least aimed specifically at freight transportation and would cost a lot less, namely a single tunnel project, but that is not the political point here, because they somehow have to save face, or rather their collective faces given the bipartisan support for this project, why should they care anyway, after all the taxpayer will foot the bill and so they will get to open some new construction sites.
Beppe Grillo's Blog
I also want to give you another bit of help, another bit of data by borrowing from the good work done by Stefano Caselli in Il Fatto Quotidiano, where he combines a whole series of questions requiring answers, such as, what does the Turin - Lyon High-Speed railway line involve? Just so that we understand what we're dealing with here and I'm not saying this for the benefit of the valley residents who know only too well what the project involves, but rather for the benefit of all those people who pontificate from the outside without having even the foggiest idea of what we're dealing with and what these people are telling us. .They rattle on about development and that we can't afford to miss the so-called "development train". The project is split into two sections, namely the Italian stretch whose route has not yet even been officially established, and then the Italo - French stretch, which, according to the plans submitted in 2010, involves blasting 57km-long dual tunnels through the Ambin mountain, with excavations taking place at a depth of up to 2000 metres, running from the Susa area through to Saint Jean de Maurienne in France, but what is the estimated cost of these works? According to the dossier documentation submitted to the European Union back in 2007, in January 2006 the estimated basic cost of the tunnels was 14 billion Euro, 63% of which, in other words 9 billion Euro would be borne by Italy. To this, a further 5 billion had to be added for the Italian stretch. Never before have any of the estimates for the high-speed railway lines already created ever been adhered to. The Rome - Florence line eventually cost 6 times as much as the estimated amount, the Turin - Milan 5 times as much and the Florence - Bologna 4 times as much, so, if all goes well, even if this project were to cost 4 times as much, this crap would cost us not 20/22 billion, but more like 80 billion Euro.
But what is the actual amount of freight that would be transported on the Turin - Lyon line? The main reason for the opposition to the Turin - Lyon line are the goods freight traffic figures. Calculations done by Ltf, the Italo - French company contracted to build the new line, were based on an annual volume of some 20 million tons in 2010. In fact, the volume of traffic on the existing line amounted to a mere 2.4 million tons in 2009 and has been in constant decline since 2004, yet now they claim that the new line will carry 20 million tons per year, so how does that work? Please excuse my ignorance but how do they manage to calculate a volume of 20 million tons per year in 2010 when in fact the actual volume of goods transported on the existing line was some 2.5 million tons in 2009 and has done nothing other than decrease over the past seven years. Even road transportation volumes have continued to decline constantly over the past 10+ years. Back in 2009, the volume of goods going through the Fréjus tunnel amounted to 10 million tons, so why do we need to increase capacity when the current line is seriously underutilised, that's absolutely crazy! What is the volume of current passenger traffic between Turin and Modan, and is it increasing or declining? Passenger traffic is the second issue on which the No TAV movement is focussing in order to show the uselessness of this project, but why? Well, because the Swiss Federal Transportation Department has calculated that in 2009 some 750 thousand passengers travelled on the Turin - Modan line, on which the French TGV trains have also been travelling for years, but do you know what that number was 20 years ago? Exactly double, in other words 1.5 million. That's the year in which the promoters of the TAV estimated that the figure was set to increase to 8 million passengers by 2002. So, twenty years ago they were saying that passenger numbers would increase exponentially within the subsequent few years, but instead, the number of passengers travelling on the Turin - Modan line declined by half, so don't we obviously need something else if not only the goods volumes but also the passenger numbers are busy declining?
How well utilised is the old Fréjus International railway line anyway? Well, the agreement for the Italo - French stretch that was signed in Turin back in January 2001 envisages the commissioning of the new high-speed line when the existing line reaches saturation . The Susa Valley already has an international railway line, namely the Fréjus line, whose uphill section was only completed in 1984, while the Fréjus tunnel itself dates back to 1870. In the past 3 years, the alpine stretch of the old line has been running at only 25% of capacity, so much for the claim that the railway will reduce pressure on the motorway! According to the TAV supporters, the Turin - Lyon high speed line will eliminate a large chunk of the current road transportation, which means fewer trucks and fewer cars, more trains, with consequent benefits for the environment but the only experiment that has been tried to date was the one, started in 2003, of the railway motorway on the old line and, notwithstanding European funding to the tune of 12 million Euro per year, which has now been frozen, the experiment has proven to be a failure since the railway only managed to garner a mere 2% of the road traffic, so it's not true that the railway will change existing freight transportation habits, also partly because the requirement is declining rather than increasing and this trend is set to continue in the coming years.
And penultimate but very much not least, the cost/benefit to the environment, you know that thing we talk about as if it's something outside us, a hologram of dying polar bears and apocalyptic events, rather than the warp to which we are the woof.
Beppe Grillo's Blog
What will be the nature and the extent of the environmental impact of the construction of the TAV? According to forecasts, the Turin - Lyon TAV construction sites would remain operational for at least two decades. The basic tunnel would involve disposing of some 18 million cubic metres of excavation material, which will also be pollutant because it will obviously contain toxic substances as well, substances that may even be radioactive and that need to be handled in a special way. This is not just common or garden rock and about 1 million truck trips will have to be undertaken over the next 20 years in order to dispose of these 18 million cubic metres of excavation material. Now, how well do you guys know the Susa Valley? A million truck trips to take away this stuff that will be extracted from the excavations, and the mountains around the Susa Valley are known to contain high levels of asbestos and uranium, not to mention the effects of the excavations on the hydro geological system, as happened in the Mugello region where they have had landslides, underground aquifers that have simply dried up and other environmental disasters, the cost of which will have to be borne by future generations. We are already paying for some of the environmental disasters and now there's going to be asbestos and radioactive materials as well, a million trips to take this little lot away.
Oh yes, what about the unemployment issue?
Beppe Grillo's Blog
It is true that the construction of the TAV will increase the number of available jobs? We've already spoken about this with regard to what Ponti says. According to the Yes TAV front, the job creation potential is reason enough to go ahead with the works. The plan for the Italian side of the project and the joint Italian - French part, as submitted in 2010, claims that a thousand people will be employed for an average period of 7 years. According to the opposers of the project, there is no guarantee whatsoever regarding the potential engagement of manual labourers and, in any event, we could do far better by employing those thousand workers to carry out maintenance, which is what would really improve the people's quality of life and the environment, while simultaneously avoiding any hydro geological damages and environmental disasters. What progress has been made on the French side where the No TAV movement is far less active? Firstly, it must be said that the No TAV movement is far less active in France because the French politicians actually took the trouble to consult the people with regard to the project. On the French side, they have completed 3 service tunnels destined to serve the main tunnel, 60% of whose route travels across French soil. The service tunnels in question are the 4000 metre Modan Winze, the 2.5 kilometre La Praz Winze and the 2400 metre Saint Martin La Port Winze. The works took from a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of 7 years in total, that's not very long at all. What is the use, and what will be the cost of the Chiomonte exploration tunnel, which is the one around which the albeit symbolic construction site establishment battle has focussed? The exploration tunnel in the La Maddalena district of Chiomonte will be used to establish the mountain's geological features because no one even knows what lies within the mountain itself. The plan calls for a 7 kilometre route, half of which will follow the planned route of the main tunnel and the remainder would serve as a service tunnel. These works will cost some 165 million Euro and will be financed by the European Union, using money that has in any event not fallen down from Mars but is our money anyway and, in any event, we still pay far more money to the EU than what we ever get back from them, which is perhaps a good thing given how much money gets wasted in this country.
What about Corridor 5, Lisbon - Kiev via the Padana Plain? Is this marvellous Lisbon - Kiev corridor merely a pipe dream or is it a reality? According to its supporters, the Turin - Lyon TAV would form an integral part of corridor 5 between Lisbon and Kiev. The No TAV front responds by rejecting the corridor concept and proposing, instead, a traffic route that is more uniform along its entire length and would therefore not suit a low traffic volume route such as the Turin - Lyon. One final question: how many members does the No TAV movement have in Val di Susa? It is impossible to judge just how many members the movement has, but one thing is sure, namely that around 90% of the residents of Vale di Susa basically agree on the main reasons for the movement's objections and, over the years, we have seen demonstrations involving 20 and even 30 thousand people. Last Sunday there were undoubtedly many more than that.
The vast majority of the Mountain Community of the lower valley, which includes the Mayors of around fifty municipal districts, is totally on the No TAV side.
Marco Travaglio is quite a reputable journalist. While I don't perceive any axes being ground in his work, I will be very interested to see if some commenters here will help illuminate some sides to the issue his research has not covered, or his prejudices may have hidden.
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