Yesterday, Iris, a massive tunnel boring machine, began excavating Florence’s future high-speed rail bypass. Weighing in at 1,500 tons and boasting a 9.4 metre diameter, the device is currently carving out an initial section to make the space required to assemble the final pieces of the convoy. Once it enters into full regime, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the machine will dig out two seven-kilometer-long tunnels side by side at approximately 20 metres below the ground between Firenze Campo di Marte station and the viale XI Agosto area, between the Firenze Rifredi and Castello stations.
At the same time, ground will be broken on the new high-speed Firenze Belfiore station, whose design dates back to 2003 by London-based architecture firm Norman Foster and Partners, alongside engineering company Arup. Covering more than 45,000 square feet, the new station will relieve pressure on Firenze Santa Maria Novella, changing the face of public transport in Florence by becoming the city’s main transport hub. Foster’s pioneering design works vertically, with a weight-bearing structure in glass, allowing the trains to be visible from the surface through an innovative combination of natural light, escalators and lifts that connect to rails 25 metres beneath the ground. Bus terminals, car parks, taxi stands, platforms for regional trains and car parking will be located on ground level.
“This is a very important moment for Florence, Tuscany and the mobility of the entire country,” remarks Gianpiero Strisciuglio, CEO of Rete Ferroviaria Italiana, the Italian railway infrastructure manager and subsidiary of state-owned holding company Ferrovie dello Stato. “This work will improve the quality of public transport, speed up connections and separate the flow of traffic. In this way, we will be able to increase slots for passenger and goods trains along Italy’s main train lines.”
The project has been years in the making. Mired in uncertainty for a while, before becoming Italian Prime Minister, former Mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi championed an underground station closer to Santa Maria Novella to cut costs and have a lower environmental impact. However, doing so would have resulted in fines payable to the constructors. Other discussions focused on the possibility of a smaller station in a slightly different location to the initially intended site. In 2017, the project was challenged again by a proposal to rethink the high-speed station and work ceased between 2019 and 2021. Work recommenced, albeit slowly, in the April, regaining speed in June 2021.
Costing 2.7 billion euro, the entire project is slated for completion by 2028.