THE governor of Italy’s South Tyrol region and his colleague in the Austrian province of Tyrol have publicly criticised the latest delay in constructing the €8.7bn 55km Brenner Base Tunnel (BBT).

On May 21, Austro-Italian tunnel construction company Brenner Basis Tunnel (BBT SE), which is jointly owned by Austrian and Italian national rail infrastructure managers ÖBB and RFI, revealed that completion of the tunnel is now unlikely before 2031 with opening no earlier than 2032, four years later than planned, and two years later than the previous forecast completion date of 2030.

Currently 140km of the 230km of tunnels required for the project have been built, 48km of which are main running tunnels, 52km comprise exploratory tunnels and 40km are other tunnel structures for access or logistics. Several contracts for tunnelling works have yet to be awarded although progress is expected later this year.

BBT SE cancelled a key contract on October 27 2020 to construct the 18km section known as Lot H51 between Pfons and the border at Brenner. The contract also included around 9km of exploratory tunnelling, an emergency access adit and an underground emergency evacuation halt at St Jodok.

This decision, and subsequent re-tendering, now underway, made completion of Brenner Base Tunnel between Innsbruck, Austria and Fortezza, Italy, in 2028 as originally planned, unlikely, and this has now been confirmed. Work on other sections continues and contracts for the southernmost section of upgraded line in Italy were awarded in March.

The governors, who have had detailed discussions with BBT SE, have called for solutions to construction problems in order to be able to put the Brenner Base Tunnel into operation as quickly as possible. The governors say they believe technical difficulties are being exacerbated by national interests in both Italy and Austria.

Both governors have called for political and technical coordination between the European Union, Italy and Austria to be intensified to resolve outstanding railway engineering and procurement law issues. Tyrol’s governor, Mr Günther Platter, says that this is because the region’s population wants to see the benefits of the project. “The population along the Brenner Corridor is placing great hopes in the Brenner Base Tunnel so that the quality of life can be improved,” Platter says. “At the same time, the Brenner Corridor needs a competitive railway in order to be able to transport goods in an environmentally friendly and efficient way”

“Since some of the delays, according to BBT SE, are due to the revision and harmonisation of railway equipment, we expect no more technical or national hurdles will arise in the future,” the governors said in a joint statement. “The top priority (for the regions) is to use the full potential of the BBT for shifting freight and passenger traffic to rail. National thinking is absolutely out of place in this context.”