S Jul 2015
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The longest underground connection in the world

Construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel is one of those epoch-making engineering works which by geopolitical and economic (not to mention technical) importance is reminiscent of the work to build the Alpine tunnels between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Of course the context, starting with safety conditions in which the tunneling work is being performed, is totally different to back then, but the benefits which the opening of the Brenner Base Tunnel will bring to freight and passenger traffic between the centre-north of Europe and Italy will be truly remarkable. Today approximately 40% of all freight crossing the alps transits over the Brenner Pass at the considerable altitude of 1,371m. Having a railway line built with the technical standards now available, offering total interoperability and with extremely low-grade slopes, puts a main line at the disposal of the Italian and European economic fabric (Germany’s in particular) which is essential for economic trade. One need only think of how much easier it will be for German and Bavarian companies to reach Italian ports on the Mediterranean and the opportunity it gives to Italy’s main industrial area (which extends across the Val Padana from Turin to Trieste) in terms of a better connection with the most important markets in central Europe. It will take another ten years to complete the Tunnel. We met up with engineer Raffaele Zurlo, the Italian CEO of BBT SE, the European company in charge of the construction work, who explained to us in detail the legal and economic framework in which construction of the Tunnel is organized and gave us an insight into the interesting technical features characterizing the work.

Mr. Zurlo, what exactly is the BBT SE and what are its tasks?

BBT SE is a European company established in compliance with EU regulations which introduce this corporate format of “European Company” into the European legal system. The shareholders are the Italian and Austrian governments, via the companies which manage railway infrastructures in the two countries. So on the Italian side the shareholders are the shareholding company TFB (Tunnel Ferroviario del Brennero) while on the Austrian side we have ÖBB , in other words the Austrian railways. In Italy it was preferable to set up a specific company because, unlike in Austria, where the shareholder is only the Austrian government via ÖBB, in Italy the shareholders in BBT SE are not only the State Railways (FS) through RFI (87.01% of the shares) but also the Autonomous Provinces of Trento (5.48%) and Bolzano (6.37%) and the Province of Verona (1.14%). So it was necessary to set up a shareholding company which allows the four different Italian shareholders to bring in their own contribution in terms of know-how, resources and share capital totalling 10.4 million Euros. This corporate structure was established in 2004 when the two countries, by means of an Intergovernmental Agreement signed by the two Ministers of Infrastructure, decided to realize this project.

Franco Tanel

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