Rome city hall pulls plug on costly Metro project

ROME (Reuters) - Rome city council voted on Friday to stop financing a third underground transport line, pulling the plug on a project that is years behind schedule, well over budget and embroiled in corruption scandals.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which took control of Rome at local elections in June, said it could no longer justify pumping public money into the rail link and would now look at other ways to meet the capital’s transport needs.

“The Roma Metropolitane company has failed in its mission, generating enormous costs for the taxpayers. We have decided not to recapitalise it,” said mayor Virginia Raggi.

The decision means the Metro C will stop short at the Collosseum rather than crossing through the heart of Rome, as originally planned, severely limiting the impact it was meant to make on the car-choked city.

The move also represents a blow to the local building industry that was already angry over 5-Star’s decision last month to withdraw from the race to stage the 2024 Olympic Games.

The consortium building the line, which includes Astaldi, Vianini Lavori, a unit of Caltagirone, and Ansaldo STS made no immediate comment.

The initial section of the driverless network was inaugurated in 2014 and 21 stations are now open.

Financing has been agreed for a further three stations up to the Colosseum, which are set to be operational by 2020. Work on this stretch will continue, but plans for a further 14 stops to the Vatican and beyond have been dropped.

The designers chose a costly, heavy-duty train system expecting that the route would carry up to 600,000 passengers a day. At present, the link carries just 50,000 people a day.

Building the initial 24 stations to the Colosseum was originally priced at 2.23 billion euros ($2.54 billion), but after a welter of design changes the figure is now put at 2.97 billion euros.

Italy’s National Audit Court has ordered more than 10 people linked to the project should stand trial over what it says was a waste of 270 million euros of public money. The defendants deny the accusations.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer