Italy's fledgling populist government is facing one of its biggest challenges yet over this Alpine tunnel. The left-leaning Five Star Movement and hard right pro-business League party were rivals going into last year's national election. But after just eight months in power as part of a coalition, plans to revamp the tunnel, one of Europe's most ambitious engineering projects, has exposed their conflicting visions for Italy's future.
Reuter's Steve Scherer is there.>> The trains that go through the tunnel leave from here in this station in northwest Italy, in the city of Teran. And they go through the mountains to the Alps to France. The right winged league party supports completing the tunnel, which is already funded and for which work has already begun.
However, it's coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, which battled against the construction of this tunnel for years, which it considers a possible font of corruption and says it's unnecessary because not enough traffic will pass on the rails to justify the project, opposes it.>> Currently, trains pass through in a 150-year-old tunnel that doesn't come close to satisfying safety laws.
But now a 2400 ton boring machine is working around the clock more than 1,000 meters below ground on the French side of the border. Despite Rome's threats to pull the plug as it reviews the 8.6 billion Euro project. Forecasts for regional and European elections in May don't poll in the Five Star Movement's favor.
They suggest a surge for the league. If Five Star lose this battle, it could drive a permanent wedge between the two ruling parties and create a crisis at the heart of Italian politics.