Answer given by Mr Barrot on behalf of the Commission
The railway line connecting Chambéry to Torino is actually one of the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) lines with the largest number of international freight trains per day (around 100 per day). The lines’ technical characteristics - it was built between 1855 and 1870 – are now obsolete and the operating costs are significantly higher than more recent facilities, preventing a further development of freight transport by rail. The Honourable Member is correct that some spare capacity is still available – but, due to the problems mentioned above, it is impossible to offer a high quality rail service which could compete in terms of travel time, efficiency and reliability with road transport. Furthermore, the existing line on the Italian territory runs very close to very densely populated areas, and freight trains - in particular - generate high noise levels that affect the local population. A substantial increase of the number of freight trains on the existing route would have a negative impact on the quality of life of the people living in the neighbourhood of the line.
Nevertheless, some upgrading works on the existing line are currently underway – partly co-financed by the Community - to enlarge the tunnel to permit all types of combined transport trains to use the line. However, this upgrading is only a partial one which will in no way provide the same capacity and service quality as a new line.
In this context, in order to develop rail freight transport in the Alps, the Community guidelines for Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T), adopted in 1996(1), identified the new Torino-Lyon section as one of the priority projects to be implemented. The new TEN-T guidelines(2) have confirmed this as a Community priority, with an expected date of completion around 2017. The Lyon-Torino section is included in the wider Priority Project n° 6 (Lyon-Torino-Milano-Venezia-Trieste-Ljubljana-Budapest-Ukrain border) and will represent a major axis – for passengers and freight - connecting the western part of Europe (France-Spain-United Kingdom-Benelux) to Italy and the new Member States.
The Community is currently financing studies on the Lyon-Torino section which by the end of 2006, will provide a very clear guidance on the construction of new infrastructures including, in particular, the technical options for the construction of the tunnel and the required environment protection and mitigation measures.
Decision No 1692/96/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 1996 on Community guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network, OJ L 228, 9.9.1996, as amended by Decision No 1692/96/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 1996, OJ L 15 , 17.1.1997.