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Turin–Lyon high speed railway

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Turin–Lyon high-speed railway

The Turin–Lyon high-speed railway is a planned 270 km (170 mi)-long, 220 km/h (140 mph) railway line that will connect the two cities and link the Italian and French high-speed rail networks. Civil engineering work started with the construction of access points and geological reconnaissance tunneling, with actual construction of the line initially planned to start in 2014–2015. Funding was delayed, and the project was approved in 2015 for a cost of €25 billion, of which €8 billion is for the base tunnel. The ratification of the corresponding treaty between the two countries by their respective parliaments concluded with a 26 January 2017 vote of the French senate, and an invitation to tender for detailed construction studies for the French side of the tunnel was published in late 2016. Construction has yet to start officially, but the 9 km reconnaissance gallery that is being tunneled from Saint Martin de la Porte towards Italy is bored along the axis of the South tube of the tunnel and at its final diameter. Construction of the base tunnel is expected to start formally in 2018 and to take approximately 10 years.


Like the Swiss AlpTransit project, the line aims to transfer freight traffic across the Alps from trucks to rail. It is part of the "Mediterranean Corridor" - previously "Corridor 6" — of the TEN-T Trans-European conventional rail network, since its design speed of 220 km/h (140 mph) is slightly below the 250 km/h (160 mph) threshold used by the European Commission to define high-speed railways. The new line will considerably shorten the journey times, and its reduced gradients and much wider curves compared to the existing line will allow heavy freight trains to transit between the two countries at 100 km/h (62 mph) and with much reduced energy costs.

The core of the project is a 57 kilometres (35 mi) base tunnel crossing the Alps between Susa valley in Italy and Maurienne in France. The tunnel will be one of the longest rail tunnels in the world and it represents one third of the estimated overall cost of the project.

The project has been criticized for its cost, because traffic (both by motorway and rail) is currently decreasing, for potential environmental risks during the construction of the tunnel, and because airplanes would still, after including time to and from the airport and through security, be slightly faster over the Milan-Paris route. A 2012 report by the French Court of Audit questioned the realism of the costs estimates and traffic forecasts.

Preliminary studies

The worthiness of the new line was the subject of heated debate, primarily in Italy, but later in France as well. An Italian governmental commission studied all the issues after 2006, after an attempt to start works near Susa (Italy) in 2005 resulted in a strong confrontation between opponents and police. Works of the commission between 2007 and 2009 have been collected in seven papers (Quaderni) summarizing the results. An eighth paper focused on cost–benefit analysis was unveiled in June 2012 but criticized by some experts for contents and for publication timing.

Test drilling found some internally stressed coal-bearing schists that are poorly suited for a tunnel boring machine, and old-fashion Drilling and blasting will be used for the short corresponding sections.

The conventional line

Since 1872, a conventional double track railway connects Turin with Lyon via the 13.7 km (8.5 mi)-long high-altitude (mean tunnel altitude 1,123 m or 3,684 ft) double-track, Fréjus Rail Tunnel,. That line was electrified in 1915, and its Italian side was renovated between 1962 and 1984, and again between 2001 and 2011. This historical line has a low maximum allowed height, sharp curves that force low speeds, and its very poor profile, with a maximum gradient of 30‰, forces doubling or tripling the locomotives of freight trains, .

The characteristics of the line vary widely along its length. The Osservatorio (see References) divides the international and Italian sides into four sections:

  • Modane - Bussoleno (Frejus tunnel and high valley section)
  • Bussoleno - Avigliana (low valley section)
  • Avigliana - Turin (metropolitan section)
  • Turin node (urban section)
  • The first section comprises the Fréjus tunnel. Its lowest tunnel ceilings, highest elevation, sharpest curves, and steepest gradients, make it the limiting factor on the overall capacity of the line. Its maximum capacity has been calculated as 226 trains/day, 350 days/year, using the CAPRES model. The study foresees a traffic of 180 freight trains per day. This value has to be lowered to about 150 freight trains per day due to logistical inefficiency, since the traffic flows between the two countries are asymmetric. A similar analysis for the whole year leads to a total of about 260 peak days per year. These conditions define a maximum transport capacity per year of about 20 million tonnes when accounting for inefficiencies, and an absolute limit of about 32 million in "perfect" conditions.

    Additional traffic limitations stem from the impact of excessive train transit on the population living near the line. About 60,000 people live within 250 m (820 ft) of the historical line, and would object to the noise from late-night transits.

    In 2007 the current conventional line was used for only one-third of its total capacity. This low use level is in part because restrictions such as an unusually low maximum allowable train height and the very steep gradients (26-30‰) and sharp curves in its high valley sections discourage its use.

    Traffic predictions

    Future freight traffic from analysis of current data and macroeconomic predictions are summarized in the following table (in million tons per year):

    Promoters of the new line predict that it would about double rail traffic on the Modane corridor compared to the reference scenario (without the construction of the new line). It should be noted that traffic predictions for major rail infrastructures are intrinsically uncertain, with well-known examples of both overestimates (e.g. the Channel tunnel) and underestimates (e.g. the TGV Est) of even the early traffic. Anyway, not all the experts agree on the necessity for a new line connecting France and Italy on the Modane corridor, since the old line has wide margins for increase in traffic. Traffic could also be increased by coupling additional renovation of the existing rail infrastructure with sufficiently high financial incentives for rail transport and/or sufficiently heavy tolls and taxes on road transport, rather than as a natural consequence of faster transit times and a lower price for freight shipping (due to reduced energy use thanks to a much flatter profile, but without necessarily taking into account the full construction cost of the new line). The construction of a brand-new line will on the other hand make the older infrastructure fully available for regional and suburban services, which is an important consideration near the congested Turin node. It will allow higher safety standards.

    The new line

    The new railway line will have a maximum gradient of 12.5‰, compared to 30‰ over 1 km (0.62 mi) of the old line, a maximum altitude of 580 m instead of 1,258 m, and much wider curves. This will allow heavy freight trains to transit at 100 km/h (62 mph) and passenger trains at a top speed of 220 km/h (140 mph), and will also sharply reduce the energy used. The construction of the full high-speed line will cut passenger travel time from Milan to Paris from seven hours to four, becoming time-competitive with plane travel for town-center to town-centre travel.

    No TAV movement

    No TAV is an Italian movement against the construction of the line. The name comes from the Italian acronym for Treno Alta Velocità, high speed train. The movement's first demonstrations date back to 1995, but it became widely recognized during protests in 2005 and in the following years. Some No TAV protests have included clashes with police and disruption of highway traffic.

    The movement generally questions the worthiness, cost, and safety of the project, with support from studies, experts, and governmental documents from Italy, France, and Switzerland. It deems the new line useless and too expensive, and believes that its realization is driven by construction lobbies. Its main stated objections are:

  • Low level of saturation on the Frejus rail tunnel and stable or decreasing traffic also on Frejus road tunnel
  • Economical feasibility in doubt due to high costs
  • Danger of environmental disasters
  • Concerns about health, due to the hypothetical presence of uranium and asbestos in the mountains where the tunnel is to be bored, though the extensive reconnaissance tunneling has found none to date.
  • Ideas against the construction of the new line have been summarized by members of the movement in a document containing 150 reasons against it and in a wide number of specific documents and meetings.

    Critics of the No TAV movement, by contrast, characterize it as a typical NIMBY movement.


    Turin–Lyon high-speed railway Wikipedia

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