On 27 August, a landslide in the French Maurienne Valley caused the Fréjus tunnel, connecting France and Italy to close. While the road traffic segment of the tunnel has resumed operations, works on the rail section have proven more challenging than anticipated and are now only expected to be completed in summer 2024.
A spell of torrential rain in the Frech town of La Praz, in the commune of Saint-André, about 20 km off the border with Italy, caused a landslide earlier this year, leading to around 10,000 cubic metres of rock and mud to fall on the Fréjus tunnel. The tunnel, running under the Col du Fréjus in the Cottian Alps, connects Modane in France and Bardonecchia in Italy and was closed for repairs.
About a week after the landslide, the road traffic section was cleared out and vehicles were able to resume circulation. The rail section was expected to also be cleared and secured within two months, however, regional director of French rail operator SNCF, François Ravier, has revealed that repairs will take at least another 7 months, with an aim of reopening the tunnel in summer next year, although there is a chance it will only be reopening in September.
2. Tourism and environment
The Fréjus tunnel is frequently used by tourists travelling from one country to the other, especially in wintertime when ski enthusiasts prefer taking the train to reach resorts rather than flying or driving. Moreover, the tunnel is also used by longer routes, between Paris and Milan, or Lyon and Turin, which have been suspended or are taking “long and expensive detours through Switzerland”, according to the Transalpine Lyon-Turin railway committee.
The closure of the tunnel is expected to heavily increase carbon emissions, as travellers will turn to cars or planes to reach their destination. For shorter trips, tourists will most likely resort to cars, authorities already predicting heavier traffic in the area. For longer trips, flights are expected to be in higher demand, Spanish low-cost airline Volotea having already supplemented the Paris-Milan route.
Causing further disruptions, the Mont Blanc tunnel will also be closed for maintenance from 16 October to 18 December.
According to Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, preparations are underway to transform the Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne station, from where the tunnel is closed, into a transport hub for the ski season, with shuttle buses being added to take TGV passengers from the train station to ski resorts in the area.