Lyon-Turin: sea serpent and field of investigation for researchers

© Leïla Shahshahani
On June 9, 2012, the No TAV Savoie collective organized a demonstration in Chambéry against the project for a new Lyon-Turin railway line.

The project for a new rail link between Lyon and Turin, imagined at the beginning of the 1990s, is of great interest to researchers in humanities and social, according to the protests which punctuate its deployment.

On the eve of a weekend of Franco-Italian mobilization planned in Maurienne on June 17 and 18, Mikaël Chambru – scientific co-coordinator of Labex ITTEM – traces the genesis of French opposition to the project for The Conversation . Researcher within the Research Group on Communication Issues ( Gresec ) at Grenoble Alpes University ( UGA ), he is interested in public controversies and socio-environmental mobilizations in the mountains, an illustration of the divergences on visions and expectations in terms of ecological and social transition.

About this new railway line, he summarizes: “ For its promoters, it is presented as a transport infrastructure useful for the ecological transition. According to them, it would ultimately allow the Alpine valleys to be relieved of heavy goods vehicle traffic by promoting a modal shift from road to rail. Conversely, this project is exposed by its opponents as pharaonic, useless and destructive of the environment. They argue that the existing rail line between Lyon and Turin and currently underused would, once renovated, reduce freight transport by truck. »

Mikaël Chambru also led an educational workshop on the issue of controversies surrounding Lyon-Turin with CCST Master students from the UGA . Based in Aussois in Maurienne, it has given rise to several forms of mediation: a stream on Twitch, a public restitution, scientific mediation workshops with students from a college in Chambéry and the production of podcasts.

Geographers are also looking at the case of Lyon-Turin. Kevin Sutton, laboratory researcher Pacte ( UGA ), wrote in the Journal of Alpine Geography in 2016: “French and Italian disputes have different geneses. The alternative territoriality promoted by the No TAV movement cannot be transposed, even though it constitutes its strength and singularity (…) The absence of an Alpine reference point on the French side can be understood by the history of a protest essentially born in peri-urban forelands (…) Both Chimilin and Chapareillan are located in between areas whose identity is not associated with a “mountain” dimension, but “rural” and “agricultural”. In the Val di Susa, these three aspects merge into an identity of the valley, i.e. an alpine mountain frame of reference. The landscape argument of the protest is understood on the Italian side in a form of inhabiting an idea of the mountain, while on the French side it is more a question of land development.”

Associated with the Telimep research project – Dynamics of transformation and perception of mountain territories – carried out within the Labex ITTEM, Kevin Sutton contributed to the work Mountain and liminality, the alpine manifestations of the between 16th and 21st centuries ( ed. PUG/ UGA ), exploring the notions of limits, circulation, conflicts and identities in the mountains. Geographers Kirsten Koop and Pierre-Antoine Landel ( Pacte ) sign a chapter there: “ (…) The TAV risks relegating the Susa valley to the status of a margin between dynamic and globalized poles. In this context, the emergence of a new imagination, of a new territorial identity in the wake of this political struggle produces a new territoriality (…) ”. The view of historians is also summoned there. “From the barricades under the Duke of Savoy to the blocking of tunnels by associations mobilized against the Lyon-Turin project (TAV), the mountain morphology favors the closure of traffic and thus resistance to political conquest or economic normalization” , writes Stéphane Gal ( Larhra ) in his introduction co-written with Marie-Christine Fourny ( Pacte ), with whom he edited the work.

It is also a historical perspective that Anne-Marie Granet ( Larhra ) in his article Flattening the mountain: a dream of European technicians and planners published in the journal Histoire des Alpes , published by the International Association for the History of the Alps in 2016: “ In this long history of the circulation, passages and borders – natural or state -, the major projects planned and underway on a European scale are radically transforming the relationship with the territory, since it involves creating within the Alpine arc, passages allowing massive and rapid flows (…). Last among the very large European projects, it (editor's note: the Lyon-Turin project) is one of the most recent examples of these developments with gigantic technical, financial and political ambition which takes up the dream of easy and rapid travel, without risks and for the Alps, without interruption during the winter period. (…) For the historian of the Alps, it means addressing the future of these territories at an important moment in their reconfiguration within the European space without neglecting questions of borders. »

Two days before the mobilization planned in Savoie against the Lyon-Turin project, the Cipra France and Mountain Wilderness associations published a press release on June 15, 2023 in which they affirmed that “ it is time to rethink in a global and coherent manner our mobilities. It is neither possible nor enviable to build ever larger infrastructures. This goes against the objective of the Alpine Convention which is precisely to limit these infrastructures in order to preserve the Alps which are above all a source of life and not a transport channel. »

With the prospect of construction of new access routes to the cross-border tunnel being pushed back to 2045, there is no doubt that this controversy will continue to fuel the work of researchers from all disciplines.