Fresh European Investment Bank (EIB) backing for Italy's high-speed train network: With the signing of a EUR 300 million loan contract, the European Union's financing institution is completing its EUR 1 billion financing package approved in June 2000 for investment in the Milan-Bologna high-speed rail line. In addition, it recently approved a further EUR 1 billion loan to bolster investment in the Milan-Naples high-speed line. Disbursement is scheduled for 2003/2004.

The contract was signed in Rome by EIB Vice-President Massimo Ponzellini and TAV's Chief Executive Antonio Savini Nicci.

"This agreement underscores the EIB's commitment to supporting a key component of Italy and Europe's transport network", Mr Ponzellini commented. "Clearly, the new Milan-Bologna line will boost the transport capacity of one of Italy's most important and most saturated infrastructure corridors".

The project consists of the construction of 182 km of dual electrified track between the outskirts of Bologna and Milan, enabling trains to travel at speeds of up to 300 km/h and cutting journey times between the two cities from 105 to 60 minutes. In its first year of use (2007), the new line will allow for a 40% increase in the number of trains serving the two cities each day.

To limit the impact on the already heavily developed environment, over 80% of the Milan-Bologna section will run parallel to the Autostrada del Sole or existing railway line. It will also be raised over 140 km and include 38 km of viaducts and 4 km of tunnels. Among the most noteworthy works on the new line are the cable-stayed bridge over the Po and the Fontanellato tunnel in Parma province.

The corridor served by the new high-speed TAV lines forms the geographical backbone of the Italian economy. It links the country's four largest metropolitan areas (Turin, Milan, Rome and Naples), two medium-sized cities (Bologna and Florence) and a number of smaller ones, with a total population of some 20 million (35% of the national figure).

The EIB, the European Union's financing institution, funds capital investment promoting European integration in fields such as regional development, trans-European transport, energy and telecommunications networks, industrial competitiveness and integration, SMEs, environmental protection and energy security.

The EIB, whose shareholders are the EU Member States, raises its resources on the capital markets and enjoys a "AAA" credit rating as a borrower.

The EIB is the leading source of long-term bank finance for communications infrastructure in Europe. In the past five years, it has provided loans to the road and rail sectors in almost equal amounts (EUR 12.6 billion and EUR 12.3 billion respectively). In 2001, aggregate EIB lending amounted to EUR 36.8 billion, of which EUR 5.4 billion went to Italy.

The EIB has contributed to financing the construction of Italy's high-speed rail network from the outset, approving loans totalling EUR 3.6 billion for the Rome-Naples, Florence-Bologna and Milan-Bologna sections.