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Alpine transport ministers follow Swiss lead

Leuenberger believes goods traffic through the Alps can be limited

(Keystone)

Transport ministers from six countries have met in Switzerland to discuss solutions to the problems related to the increase in freight traffic through the Alps.

The ministers agreed to consider a Swiss plan to develop a transit exchange, possibly with a reservation system that would help improve the flow of goods.

Representatives from France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland convened on Monday in Sedrun, canton Graubünden.

Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger presented the results of a study showing that an alpine transit exchange could limit the amount of goods passing through the Alps.

The Alpine Initiative environmental group mooted the idea in 2001, after a deadly fire in the Gotthard road tunnel, the main north-south axis through the Alps. Other alpine nations began openly considering the proposal after the Fréjus tunnel fire in June.

Two types of exchange have been suggested: a straight auction, or a reservation system for set times, both with a limited number of passage rights. These rights would then be sold by the transport companies who had purchased or reserved them.

Not EU compatible

But Enrico Grillo, a representative of the European Union's transport commission, warned that such an exchange would be incompatible with current EU legislation, which guarantees freedom of movement. But he said the European Commission would still consider the proposal.

The alpine transport ministers are expected to discuss the exchange at their next meeting in 2006 in France, but will also consider other ways of limiting goods traffic.

After the meeting the government representatives reaffirmed the need to shift goods transport off the road and onto the railways.

Switzerland is considered by many as a role model as it is already building two major tunnels – under the Gotthard and the Lötschberg - aimed at getting goods traffic off the road and speeding up transport through the Alps.

Trucks can also cross Switzerland on special trains, while lorries that use Swiss roads must pay a tax according to their weight and the distance they have travelled.

The alpine transport ministers have been meeting regularly since 2001, the year of the Gotthard tunnel fire. On Monday, they agreed to exchange information about "spontaneous" truck fires anywhere on their territory, even outside tunnels.

They hope this will give them enough data to decide what precautionary measures should be taken to avoid further tunnel tragedies. These could include extra training for lorry drivers.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Railways account for 16% of Europe's goods transport, while roads handle 72%.
The Gotthard base tunnel through the Swiss Alps will be 57 kilometres long when completed in 2012, running from Erstfeld (canton Uri) to Biasca (canton Ticino).
It is the biggest rail project in Europe, and the tunnel will be the longest in the world, ahead of Japan's Seikan tunnel between the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu.

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In brief

The transport ministers from six alpine countries met in Switzerland following the fire in the Fréjus tunnel between France and Italy earlier this year.

The ministers have met since 2001, after Switzerland suggested regular gatherings to discuss security issues in the aftermath of the deadly Gotthard, Mont Blanc (France) and Tauern (Austria) tunnel fires.

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