Italy’s high-speed train has already arrived in the South

Young people at work on the Naples-Bari construction sites

In the frenetic shopping days leading up to Christmas, thousands of people pass through the “Gates of Naples” mall. Its 70 stores, 10 bars, restaurants, cinemas, amusement arcades and bowling alleys are packed with throngs of people having fun between purchases.

In addition to cars, however, 100 heavy trucks go in and out of the area every day. They are headed to the construction site of the Naples-Bari high-speed railway line, a strategic work that will bring high-speed trains to Puglia in southern Italy for the first time, expanding logistical interchanges in the area between Naples and Afragola, one of the most densely populated in Europe.

The “Gates of Naples” shopping center will be a stop on the new line. To build it, engineer Vincenzo Moriello, Webuild project manager of the Naples-Cancello section, has created what he calls a “maniacal organisation.”

“The latest deck launch (one of the bridges crossing over the area’s many highways) was completed entirely at night,” he said. “We started at 10 in the evening and finished at 5:30 in the morning. This required a massive deployment of men and vehicles in order not to interrupt the traffic flow during the day.”

Moriello and his team’s effort to not disrupt daily life in the area around the mall is just one of the many chapters in the story of this massive project, which has already begun to bring enormous benefits to southern Italy even during the construction phase.

Afragola: people and equipment at work to build the fast train

The numbers speak louder than words about the impact that the new high-speed line will have the South: 2.3 million passengers transported each year, 90 tonnes fewer CO2 released into the atmosphere, a population growth of 90,000 people in the areas involved, and a GDP growth of 1.6%.

These numbers tell how the territory will change once the work is inaugurated. In addition, the work itself will have a strong impact on employment and businesses.

Already, 370 people are working on the 15.5-km (9.6-mile) long Naples-Cancello section being built by the Webuild group. This figure will rise to 500 in the coming months, with an employment of over 1,000 people when subcontractors and the supply chain is included. Inside the construction site of the mall, at least 60 people are working every day to build the foundations for the new station and the track bed.

“Every day inside the yard at the Gates of Naples, we transport 200 cubic metres (7,062 cubic feet) of concrete going in, and bring 20 barrels and 200 cubic metres of excavated material out,” explains Vincenzo Moriello.

This grinding schedule continues unabated even during the Christmas period.

New people at work on the Apice-Hirpinia route

On the Apice-Hirpinia, the second of the four Naples-Bari routes awarded to Webuild Group, everything is ready for the hiring of about 800 people. Many will be needed to move the Tunnel Boring Machines, or TBM, the huge mechanical milling machines which are up to 100 metres (328 feet) long. These machines will arrive by ship from China.

They are scheduled to land in the ports of Bari and Barletta during the early days of January, after which the TBMs will be loaded onto trucks and transported to the shipyards.

“To bring all the cutters, it will take at least 130 trips made by special trucks capable of carrying up to 170 tonnes of weight,” explains Vincenzo Moriello.

In addition to the logistical challenges of transport, the main issue is to find a qualified workforce experienced in mechanical excavation. To achieve this aim, Webuild Group has launched the “Trade School” project throughout Italy. It will recruit new staff – especially young people — to be trained in the skills of mechanised excavation.

“Already today we have 220 people at work in the Apice-Hirpinia, but everything will change once the TBM are running,” says Moriello.

The engineer, one of the greatest experts in mechanised excavation thanks to his experience with Webuild in the Rome, Milan, Riyadh and Doha subways, foresees that about 800 people will be needed to operate the eight TBMs at work on the project. Of these, 30% will be specialised workers of the Group, the rest will come from new hires and training through the “Trade School” program.

“The idea is to hire local people,” he says. “Young unemployed people, but also farmers, mechanics, electricians, even pizza makers. The important thing is the willingness to follow the training course organised with our technical experts.”

Their contribution will be necessary to support the work of TBM, which will be entrusted with the most important part of the 18 kilometres (11.8 miles) of the Apice-Hirpinia line — a very complex stretch because it crosses the Apennines, among other geographical challenges.

The construction machine is already in motion, and Italy’s underdeveloped South has already begun to benefit from the effects of this new high speed rail link.