Home » “The development of rail freight transport does not only depend on infrastructure”

“The development of rail freight transport does not only depend on infrastructure”

by drbyos

Living in Maurienne for more than thirty years, I have heard the arguments of supporters and opponents of the Lyon-Turin rail tunnel. All assert themselves as supporters of the modal shift from road to rail. This is not surprising, since approximately 800,000 heavy goods vehicles cross our valley each year; but for some this project is useless, costly and harmful, for others it is essential.

The debate thus focused on the opportunity of the base tunnel. There is no way out: who can judge the relevance of an infrastructure whose lifespan will probably exceed one hundred and fifty years (the current Mont-Cenis tunnel dates from 1871), even if we recognize that the economic and traffic conditions are no longer those envisaged in the 1990s, when the projects for the great Alpine tunnels, Gotthard, Lötschberg, Brenner were launched… And the history books remind us of the demonstrations against the installation of the first railways in the 19th century.

The possibilities of increasing traffic under the existing tunnel are real, but minimal for some, significant for others, depending in particular on the interpretation made of the safety rules. In any case, it must be noted that, despite the major modernization work carried out on the current tunnel between 2003 and 2011, rail freight traffic has not increased, but rather decreased. And, for the past fifteen years, in France, the road has absorbed most of the increase in freight traffic.

State credibility at stake

This is because the development of rail freight transport does not only depend on infrastructure. Of course, these are essential. But they cannot be limited to the few tens of kilometers of the base tunnel. The profitability and environmental relevance of modal shift are all the greater when they relate to long journeys. And what is rightfully put forward by proponents of the new tunnel are routes from Spain or northern France and Europe to Italy and beyond. This is why the question of the organization of access is essential; close access first from the Lyon region.

Read also the forum: The Lyon-Turin link imposes political choices, by Jean Sivardière

Today, we are talking about a deadline of 2045, or even beyond, while the tunnel is due to open in 2032 and climate change does not wait. The procrastination and delays in decisions relating to access undermine the credibility of the State in its desire to promote modal transfer; especially since, if the central tunnel is very largely financed by European funds, access is mainly the responsibility of each national State. The tunnel without access means a limited modal transfer and additional nuisances linked to the increase in goods traffic that can however be envisaged, as well as an increased deterioration in passenger traffic.

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