After 17 years of construction, 550 meters above sea level and 2300 meters below the highest mountain crest, Switzerland will open with 57 km the world longest rail tunnel for trial runs after an investment of USD 12 billion. With scheduled operation beginning December 11th daily capacity is for 65 passenger trains and 260 freight trains (80 more than today). Travel time is reduced by almost an hour, distance by 30 km. To get permission to operate the tunnel system almost 4000 people had to be trained. Also three train evacuation exercises had to be successfully performed. The last of it involved a double ICN500 train with 800 passengers.
The new Gotthard tunnel has an important function in the connection between Germany and Italy as well as within Switzerland to connect the part on both sides of the Alps. With all interconnection-, safety-, air venting-, vertical connection- and twin railway tunnel over 156 km of rock where drilled and broken out. The tunnel summit was lowered from 1150 meters by the old track to 550 meters above sea level. There are four emergency junctions with changing tracks in between the two separated tunnels. Always two at each emergency station, which are inside 16 km from south portal and 20 km from north portal (see cover picture). To keep the walls safe in place, they have 8 meter long anchors at every 1.2 meter put into the mountain rock.
For freight trains it is part of the European Rhine Alpine Corridor between the ports of Rotterdam (Netherlands, transshipment of 12.2 million TEU) and Genoa (Italy, 2.17 million TEU). Today most of traffic between northern Italy industrial zones comes in through the port of Rotterdam and travels south through Germany and Switzerland. Over 66% of local and international goods traffic tonnages cross the Gotthard by train, but still 1 Million trucks cross the Swiss Alps every year. To reach the full potential of the new “flat” track through the Alps more than 20 tunnels and 80 obstacles still have to be rebuilt, widened or removed for a 4 meter profile of loaded trucks on cars (rail highway) through all of Switzerland and into northern Italy. This will take another four years to build, 2020 at the earliest everything is ready. Then 750 meter long trains (today 550 to 600 m), with a load of up to 2000 t (1400-1700 t) can run by 1 locomotive (2 to 3 locos) cross the Alps at three minutes block time distance with ETCS level 2.
With the deepening and extension of Italien seaports of Savonna, Genua and La Spezia within the next years the Asian imports to Central Europe takes 5 days less than Rotterdam. Therefore also the south-north traffic will increase through the new Gotthard connection into Germany and Switzerland.
Middle of 2011 a conceptual design started for testing the different new systems in the 57 km long Gotthard Base Tunnel. With the permission of the federal railway administration on hand, the test of the first installed southern part of one tunnel tube started in December 2013. Since October 2015 the whole twin tunnel system, including two mountain internal emergency stations and the ETCS level 2 started with around 3500 tests. All went within planned timeline and end of May, the tunnel building society AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd will give over the project to the operator SBB … after 28 million tonnes of rock was removed, 131.000 m3 of concrete was built in, 290 km of tracks laid, 2630 km of optical fibre and 3200 km of copper cable installed, 928 train control balises and 712 axle counters functioned, 417 emergency call stations and 118 km of handrails put in place, 4 million man-hour’s of work … and many things more!
by Peider Trippi
Cover Photo: SBB ©