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There is a fierce nip in the air outside, but inside the temperature is almost tropical and the further you advance into the dark, the louder the noise becomes.
This is the heart of the Lyon to Turin high-speed train link, where a tunnel boring machine is chomping through the earth, oblivious to the row within Italy's populist government over the project's future.
Saint-Martin-La - Porte - France - Workers - Beast
Underground in Saint-Martin-La Porte, in south-east France, some 20 workers are swarming around the mechanical beast in protective helmets, boots, noise-cancelling earmuffs and goggles.
Beyond them labours the vast cutter, with 70 steel toothed wheels driven by generators as powerful as eight Formula One engines.
Tunnel - Kilometres - Miles - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Savoy
The finished tunnel is expected to stretch nearly 60 kilometres (37 miles), between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the Savoy region and Susa in Piedmont, with 45 of those kilometres in France and the other 12.5 in Italy.
From 2030, trains whizzing along this line would replace hundreds of thousands of lorries which currently rumble across the Alps.
Route - Kilometres - Tunnel - Space - Workers
The two-way route will incldue 162 kilometres of tunnel space overall and workers have dug 25 kilometres so far, Piergiuseppe Gilli, construction manager at the Franco-Italian company Telt, tells AFP.
Some 800 people work on the site in all. On the stretch between Saint-Martin-La Porte and La Praz, work progresses on two fronts.
Type - Rock - Lyon - Direction - Use
The type of rock in the Lyon direction demands the use of traditional methods, such as explosives, while a tunnel boring machine (TBM) nicknamed "Federica" ploughs the other way, towards Italy.
Six of the nine kilometres of this section have already been dug, including 5.5 by the TBM, which "is advancing at a rate of 15 to 18 metres (50 to 60 feet) per day, or 400 metres per month"—better than the 250 metres a month originally planned, said Francesco Gamba, works director at Saint-Martin-La Porte.
Federica - Metres
Federica is huge: 11 metres wide and...
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