Closure of Mont Blanc tunnel between Italy and France postponed

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the French-side entrance to the Mont-Blanc road tunnel which links France and Italy beneath the Alps

ROME (Reuters) - A planned closure for maintenance of the Mont Blanc tunnel between Italy and France will be postponed after an alternative Alpine route was disrupted by a landslide on the French side of the border, Italy's transport ministry said on Thursday.

The 11.6 kilometre Mont Blanc tunnel had been due to close from next Monday for 15 weeks for works to be carried out.

The delay was agreed by Italy's transport minister Matteo Salvini in agreement with his French counterpart Clément Beaune.

The French minister said he hoped the alternative route via the Frejus road tunnel can reopen fully in a week or so but he added that the parallel Franco-Italian rail link would be out of action for at least two months. The road is currently open for cars but not for heavy goods vehicles.

The closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel would be delayed for a few days at least, Beaune added. Italian transport ministry sources said it could be put back by as much as a year.

A decision on the rescheduling of the Mont Blanc tunnel work is expected next week. Huge queues of heavy goods vehicles have already built up on the Italian approach to the tunnel this week.

The Mont Blanc and Frejus tunnels are key to Italy's exports to France, and there were concerns that their double closure would come at heavy economic cost.

According to Italian business lobby Assolombarda, 1.4 million trucks, carrying more than 12 million tons of goods passed through the two tunnels in 2021.

(Reporting by Federica Urso and Alvise Armellini in Rome, Jean-Stephane Brosse in Paris, editing by Keith Weir)