French and Italian Environmentalists oppose high-speed railway lines

, by André Feldhof

French and Italian Environmentalists oppose high-speed railway lines

As a part of the Trans-European Networks policy of the EU, the Commission is creating channels of transport and telecommunications along the main axes of the European continent (see map). 30 projects on the rail, on the road, in the water and in the air have been launched to give more mobility, better and more sustainable transport infrastructure and to create cross-border connections.

On Saturday, environmental activists and various political representatives marched through Suse in Piemonte, Italy and Hendaye, France in protest against the high-speed lines. In particular, they demonstrated against two lines currently under construction between Bordeaux and Madrid, and Lyon and Turin. Members of French Greens and members of the Italian Democratic Party (PD) and the Greens joined them in their protest.

In France, they signed a charter that is supposed to finds its way the the Commission and the European Parliament, calling for a stop of construction and a revision of the Trans-European Network policy. Next to endangering the environment, the demostrators criticize that the new railway lines will merely pass through the region without including small cities along the way. The French Greens in the region of Acquitaine (South-West) obviously use the situation to gain points for the upcoming regional election, while critical voices believe that they might soften their position in case a coalition with the Socialists should become possible.

In Italy, the millionaire and political blogger Beppe Grillo is one of the main figures in the “No TAV”-movement. To me, the movement appears a little polemic and the ten reasons for opposing the track (“Dieci grandi bugie” - Ten big errors) are more polarizing than explanatory. However, popular opposition to the track seems large and the Greens as well as some leftist parties support the No TAV -movement as well. Apparently there are some chances that the Italian movement will be heard by politics.

In my view, however, it would be wrong to reopen the debate about Trans-European Networks now. The decision to connect the biggest cities of the continent along the major axes via railway tracks is a good one. In the long run, transnational trains have to become as affordable and as fast as a plane to make European travel more sustainable. Until now, high-speed train lines can only compete with domestic flights. As soon as a the plane leaves the country, trains are no longer a serious competitor. When I was stuck on Milan Airport last December, some travellers decided to take a train back to Düsseldorf. It took them twelve hours and they paid more than 150 EUR (as opposed to 90 EUR for a round trip on the plane). There has to be a greater investment in the train network to make it a true alternative to the airplane.

Revoking the Trans-European Network policy now would be a step in the wrong direction.

Image: European railway tracks, source: European Commission

This article was first published at Mount EUlympus

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