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Plans to build new Strait of Messina Bridge take “option 0” off the table

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In 250 B.C., the Romans attempted to transport 100 elephants captured in battle from Palermo, Sicily, to Rome across the strait of Messina. According to the Greek historian Strabo, they used empty barrels and wooden planks to build a temporary bridge across the Strait of Messina, a two-mile-wide waterway with strong currents and winds. The elephants made it to Rome, but history does not record if they actually made it across this rudimentary bridge.

The last time there was an attempt to build the proposed bridge was in 2006, when a bid to build the bridge was awarded to a consortium led by the company WeBuild. Then the Berlusconi government collapsed, and the plans were tabled.

Over the years a number of alternatives were proposed. One of them, dubbed “option 0,”  was to do nothing. In recent years there have been a number of “alternative” ideas that put an end to the calls to leave everything as it is.

In 2021, the former Minister of Infrastructure and Sustainable Transport Enrico Giovannini called for an open discussion on the plan to build. Among the possible choices was a single span bridge, two or more spans or a tunnel. According to Giovannini, there would have been the so-called “option 0”, i.e., doing nothing and continuing to rely on the current ferrying system. To adequately prepare to maintain the status quo, the Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI), the Italian Railroad Network, had placed an order for the construction of two new dual fuel ferries destined for the Strait.

For the construction of the two new vehicles – fast dual fuel units, approximately 165 feet long and capable of transporting up to 350 people – to be used on the Strait of Messina, an amount of 52.19 million euros had been allocated, also allowing for a third ship. After the initial unsuccessful offer in April 2022, RFI made a new offer to expire in October 2022. Offers from two shipyards had been received at the company’s address, but the procedure remained at a standstill for more than a year.

Former Undersecretary of Infrastructure Giancarlo Cancelleri proposed building, within two years, twelve new ETR Frecciarossa trains with four carriages each with a capacity of around 200 seats each, to serve the routes from Sicily to Rome/Venice/Milan and vice versa.

A recent decision to cancel the ferry orders goes hand in hand with the disappearance of the “ferry compatible” Frecciarossa from the agenda of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.

This solution was passed off as ingenious, even if it postponed the “Bridge dossier” indefinitely, as it would have immediately brought high-speed rail to Sicily. The solution also received the technical approval of six universities from the two regions involved, Sicily and Calabria, both of whom maintained that ferry times would be reduced to exactly 59 minutes.

Times, however, have changed. In October of 2023, the Italian government announced it was earmarking approximately 12 billion euros to move ahead with the project and build the single-span bridge over the Strait. According to the final updated project “option 0” is no longer in play. This was confirmed when the client for the RFI officially cancelled the offer to supply the two ferries and there was no further talk of new Frecciarossa trains.

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