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SPIEGEL ONLINE

07/04/2011 03:07 PM

Turin 21

Railway Rage in Italy

Germany's controversial Stuttgart 21 rail project isn't the only such endeavor being met with major resistance from citizens in Europe. Northern Italy has its own version of the conflict -- the Lyon-Turin rail link.

Italy has its own version of Germany's Stuttgart 21 battle, led by a growing number of angry citizens protesting a similarly contentious railway project. And just like in Germany, their methods range from peaceful sit-ins to lobbing firecrackers, though some opponents have recently turned violent in their attempts to derail the project's progress.

The 7.5-kilometer (4.7-mile) long railway tunnel in the Susa Valley of northern Italy's Piedmont Region is meant to connect Turin and the French city of Lyon. But opposition to the project has been mounting since France and Italy first signed the deal in 2001. The Lyon-Turin rail link tunnel's construction poses an environmental threat to the region and will ruin their charming Alpine Valley, residents say. The initiative will also likely cost more than €20 billion ($29 billion), with the finished line expected to displace only a fraction of the 4,500 trucks that currently drive through the Susa Valley each day.

Protests brought construction to a standstill around the time of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, but reignited violently last week with the opening of a new construction site in Chiomonte. Some 200 people -- most of them police -- were injured in clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement. Protestors threw stones and fireworks, prompting police to respond with tear gas. At least five arrests were made.

But Italian authorities had little choice in beginning construction. Failure to do so would have likely meant the loss of some €670 million ($973 million) in EU subsidies, which would have otherwise expired. But protestors have vowed to fight on. "Our battle is just beginning," representatives said.

The first signs of success can be seen already. While Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tries to push through his rigid austerity package in Rome, attempts are being made to renegotiate with France for a shorter, cheaper version of the railway line which could save some €5 billion.

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