Thousands rally to back Italy-France high-speed train project


TENS of thousands of people rallied in the north Italian city of Turin on Saturday to support a planned high-speed train line to Lyon that faced years of opposition, especially from environmental groups.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people packed the city's Castello plaza, one of the largest in the capital of the Piedmont region, in the first large-scale demonstration in favour of the TAV Lyon-Turin railway.

The protest came after Turin city authorities, lead by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), in September approved a motion demanding a halt the project. The Piedmont regional government has ruled in favour of the TAV.

Italian and French transport ministers are expected to meet this week to discuss the project.

"Turin is closing itself off, this is why we thought we have to do something as citizens," Giovanna Giordano and Patrizia Ghiazza, two of the organisers, said. "Turin has come out onto the streets to say yes many times."

Supporters see the train project as a potential source of growth for the region and northern Italy.

The Lyon-Turin project would involve construction of a 57.5 kilometre tunnel between Maurienne valley and Susa valley, to cut travel time between the two cities to two hours from the current four hours.

Luigi Di Maio, political chief of the M5S, has called for complete renegotiation of the project, which he dismisses as a waste of public money.

France's Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told the national assembly last week that the government remains determined to complete the project.

The EU has attempted to push the two countries to advance. The total cost of the tunnel is estimated at 8.6 billion euros (S$13.4 billion), 40 per cent financed by the EU, 35 per cent by Italy and 25 per cent by France. AFP

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