Italy’s works in progress: the future is in our hands

A trip to the hottest town in Europe, home of the rail link that will change Sicily

Not many people know that the hottest municipality in Europe is Catenanuova, a town near Catania in Sicily, Italy. With its summer peaks usually exceeding 40°C, 104°F, this small town has landed on the maps of international meteorology. For some time now, however, among the barren plains interrupted by boundless expanses of orange groves, hundreds of workers are bringing Catenanuova to Europe: not just for its European record, but for its infrastructure.

For the first time in Sicily’s history, work is underway to build a high-capacity railway line, with trains that will exceed 200 km/h (124 m/h) connecting the island’s two most important cities, Palermo and Catania. The route will stop in Catenanuova, where the Webuild Group is building the first section (the opposite terminus is Bicocca, near Catania airport), for a total of 38 kilometres (23 miles) of railway, employing more than 400 people and 193 contractors.

At work in the heart of Sicily

The base camp for the construction of the high-speed line that will change Sicily is located at kilometer 58 of State Road 192, near the small town of Gerbini. This remote place is surrounded by expanses of orange groves stretching as far as the eye can see along an endless plain, and dotted with a few but essential businesses. There’s a gasoline pump, a cafe where you can get a good coffee, and a small bakery with a delicatessen corner that makes sandwiches and local specialties for the site workers.

The base camp, on the other hand, is full of activity, a place where people eat, compare notes, and sleep, but most of all work. In the offices, projects take shape and become operative. Outside, site managers, assistants, and workers race to and fro in their Fiat Panda 4X4s from one end to the other of these 40 kilometers transformed into a far-flung construction site.

This is where Giuseppe Russello works, a surveyor who decided to get his engineering degree as he was turning 50. “After years of working on construction sites all over Italy,” he says as he oversees the launching operations of a deck that will allow the future road to run above the railroad, “I did it because I felt the need to grow again. It was hard, it took sacrifice, but in the end it was a unique satisfaction that I hope will also change my role at the construction site in the future.”

For everyone, the worksite is a second home, where years and years have and will be spent. Diego Pulvirenti is 50 years old, but has already spent 35 years building infrastructure projects. His is a family passion: his father and now his brother worked in the same Sicilian worksite.

“We are from Catania, and for us to work together here in Sicily is something special, unique,” he explains.

Pulvirenti is a foreman and his specialty is making so-called formwork, or the reinforcements that bolster the massive structures such as the piers that support bridges. “A complex and tiring job, but it’s my whole life,” he says.

From six in the morning to four in the afternoon he works on the construction site, while in his spare time he is building the house where he lives with his wife and children.

His work is a combination of head and hands. You can tell right away by watching him perfectly at ease among the steel and concrete of the large decks. He is one of the nearly 400 workers involved in the construction of this line that swarm across the plains of Catania, each with his own role, each with a clear goal. Launching the deck, paving a road, moving excavated earth, pouring concrete. There are so many activities, and together they feed the economic fabric, made up of businesses and workers, that is at the heart not only of the project

The Bicocca-Catenuova line promises, like the other major infrastructure projects affecting southern Italy that promise — thanks in part to the funding from Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, or NRRP — to modernise the region’s out-of-date mobility infrastructure, focusing on sustainability, safety and transport efficiency.

Webuild, new construction sites open during southern Italy's scorching summer

In southern Italy, the summer of 2022 will not only be remembered for the record heat and drought that affected all of Europe and beyond, but also because a series of new construction sites got up and running with the aim of completing important infrastructure works.

The Webuild Group, engaged in the construction of some of the most strategic works now underway in Italy today, has opened four worksites over the summer, two of them in Campania and Puglia and two others in Sicily. The construction sites in Campania and Puglia (the first for the Hirpinia-Orsara section and the second for the Orsara-Bovino section) are part of the maxi high-speed rail project that will connect Naples to Bari. Overall, the two lots involve the construction of an additional 40 km (24 miles) of a track where the Group is already at work on the Naples-Cancello and Apice-Hirpinia sections. The Sicilian construction sites, on the other hand, involve the Fiumefreddo-Taormina/Letojanni and Giampilieri-Taormina sections, for a total of 43 km (26 miles) of new lines which are two lots of the island’s other major infrastructure work, the Messina-Catania railway.

All in all, the Webuild worksites opened in August reach a total value of €3 billion ($2.9 billion) and the construction of 83 kilometres (51 miles) of new railway lines — a real economic driver for southern Italy. And Webuild is currently carrying out 15 projects in southern Italy, involving 3,700 people and more than 2,000 supplier companies, almost all of them locally based. In all cases, these are major infrastructures, such as the Third Megalot of the Jonica State Highway (28 km or 17 miles of the new road connecting Calabria with Puglia) or the Naples-Capodichino station of the Naples Metro, which will complete the connection between the city center and the international airport.