The railway line where one of Italy’s worst train disasters occurred this week was due to be upgraded with European Union funds but the project languished for nearly a decade with only 37km (22 miles) of track laid.
Twenty-three people were killed and more than 50 injured when two trains travelling in opposite directions collided head on at speeds of 70 miles per hour on a single track between Andria and Corato in Puglia.
Massimo Nitti, the managing director of Ferrotramviaria, the private company that runs the regional line where the crash occurred, blamed Italy’s bureaucracy for the delays.
He said that in the 10 years since the project had been approved, 37 kilometers ( 22 miles) of second track had been laid and another eight kilometers (4 miles) was due to be completed by 2018.
“Unfortunately this is Italy,” he said, when he appeared on Sky TV news.
Work to upgrade the stretch of single track was supposed to have begun several years ago and the EU provided development funds for the 2007-2013 period.
According to the national investment and development agency Invitalia, the EU Regional Development Fund had approved 62 percent of the 180-million-euro investment into improvements on the line that included a second track for the line.
But the European Union said the project had been delayed due to “difficulties related to the acquisitions of permissions in the region” and works were now expected to be completed in the 2014-2020 period.
“According to the principle of shared management that governs Regional Policy, managing authorities in the member states are responsible for implementing and monitoring EU co-financed projects,” the EU statement said.
As Italy’s anti-corruption chief Raffaele Cantone raised concerns about “corruption” in infrastructure projects, the Transport Minister, Graziano Delrio, said public works in the country had to become “more urgent”.
“When a region spends four years discussing with Brussels if a project works or not it is obviously a sign that something is not functioning,” he said.
But Puglia’s governor, Michele Emiliano, defended the regional government’s record.
“The Puglia region made €140 million in European funds available to Ferrotramviaria to build a second track and security systems with a resolution approved by the regional council in September 2015,” Mr Emiliano said on his Facebook page.
“The bidding was launched by Ferrotramviaria in April (and) bidding ends on July 19.
“My administration has remedied the delays of the past with the greatest speed possible. Unfortunately we didn’t do it in time.”
Meanwhile a stationmaster has accepted some of the blame for the rail accident.
“I made the train leave, I raised the signal,” Vito Piccarreta, stationmaster of Andria, told Italian media. “There was some confusion, the trains were late. But I am not the only one to blame.”
Alessio Porcelli, stationmaster in the nearby town of Corato, and Mr Piccarreta have both been suspended and both are under investigation over the fatal crash.
Mr Piccarreta, who has worked for the private Bari Nord network owned by Ferrotramviaria for 24 years, allowed a train onto the single track instead of waiting for two trains to arrive from there, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Francesco Giannella said Thursday the delay in the track-duplication work would be part of his investigation.
“We will investigate on the delays of the work on the line and on the deficiencies in the security system,” Giannella said.