Earthquake risk and asbestos threaten the Santomarco tunnel in Italy
The project for the doubling of the Santomarco tunnel, in southern Italy, may be halted due to the discovery of an active fault in the earth’s crust and the presence of asbestos underneath the area. The tunnel plays a key role in the development of the TEN-T Scandinavian-Mediterranean corridor because it would allow longer and heavier freight trains to leave the port of Gioia Tauro.
The port of Gioia Tauro is strategically located on the Mediterranean sea and is the fifth Italian port for TEUs handled. In addition, the relevance of the port of Gioia Tauro for the TEN-T network can be confirmed by the attention it has received from the EU over the past years. Already in 2010, for example, the European Commission allocated 450 million euros to strengthen the railway connections of the port. However, because of various delays, equipping the port with a rail connection was finalised only in 2021.
Since finally getting a railway connection last year, the port has been offering rail connections to the inland ports in Nola, Bologna, and Padova. However, the infrastructure in the area does not yet allow the transit of trains 550 and 750 metres long. The plan for the new Santomarco tunnel aims at fixing this problem so that volumes can increase and costs can drop. On the other hand, recent developments might hinder, or even cancel, the realisation of this project.
Shaky grounds and health risks jeopardise the Santomarco tunnel
The first alarm was raised at the beginning of November by Carlo Tansi, geologist and researcher for the Italian National Research Council. As Tansi pointed out, the fault that is supposed to be crossed by the new line has caused many earthquakes in the nearby Crati valley. Moreover, he underlined that some of the rocks underneath the area contain asbestos.
Tansi’s concerns were shared by the Italian left-wing party Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left). The party has made clear that they were not satisfied with the public debate held at the end of August. As they claim, there was no mention of the environmental impact of the project, nor the risks that workers would be taking while carrying out the project.
As an alternative solution, the party proposed a revision of the Recovery and Resilience Facility to boost the Jonic railway line. This line runs on the Italian southeast coast from Reggio Calabria to Taranto. Currently, however, this line does not allow the transit of longer and heavier trains.