Hollande, Monti hold talks on contested high-speed rail link

3rd December 2012, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti met here on Monday for talks on controversial plans for a 26-billion-euro high-speed rail link between their countries.

The pair are determined to press ahead with the $34-billion scheme that has generated furious opposition from environmental activists on both sides of the Alps.

Police cordoned off several streets around the building in Lyon where the two leaders were meeting, as protestors gathered in the French city for a march due to begin around 1300 GMT.

Hollande and Monti see the planned 57-kilometre (35-mile) tunnel under the Alps as emblematic of the pro-growth agenda they have jointly promoted within the European Union.

Supporters of the scheme claim it will take a million heavy lorries off the saturated roads between Italy and France, as transalpine freight switches to rail, cutting CO2 emissions by three million tonnes per year.

But the plans for a new tunnel under western Europe's highest mountains have also come under fire.

Critics argue it could become a white elephant subsidised by unjustifiable injections of national and European funds at a time when every other area of public spending is being tightened.

While the first trains are currently scheduled to travel on the new line in 2028 at the earliest, French officials acknowledge that the target may slip as budget constraints bite.

© 2012 AFP

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