The world’s longest railway tunnel – the Gotthard Base Tunnel – was officially opened on 1 June 2016 . Covering 57.1km, it is the cornerstone of the European Rhine-Alpine Corridor for freight transport, and is part of Switzerland’s New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA). This once-in-a-century construction project constitutes a substantial contribution by Switzerland to Europe’s transport infrastructure, symbolising Swiss values, such as innovation, precision and reliability. Its commercial commissioning by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) took place on 11 December 2016.
A construction project serving Europe – The opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016
The Rhine-Alpine Corridor
The Rotterdam/Antwerp-Genoa railway corridor is Europe’s most important freight transport axis in terms of volume. It runs along the Rhine through Europe’s industrial heartland, linking dynamically growing economic hubs, including Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Cologne, Frankfurt am Main, Basel, Zurich, Milan and Genoa. Forecasts indicate that the volume of freight on this railway line is set to increase further. The EU gives the Rhine-Alpine Corridor priority and will invest around EUR 25 billion in its expansion over the coming years. The corridor is an integral part of the European policy on the development of trans-European transport networks (TEN-T) in which it plays a pioneering role.
The Swiss people approve sustainable transport policy
Switzerland has pursued a sustainable transport policy that focuses on shifting transalpine traffic from the road to rail since the 1980s. The Swiss people have endorsed this policy in several referendums. The NRLA concept was approved by the Swiss electorate on 27 September 1992 and the corresponding financing model on 29 November 1998 by clear majorities (both 64%). This large-scale project has therefore been legitimised by direct democratic means.
NRLA – a once-in-a-century construction project
The NRLA is the largest construction project that Switzerland has ever undertaken in its history. It consists of three new base tunnels (Lötschberg 34.6km, Gotthard 57.1km and Ceneri 15.4km) and the expansion of the approach routes. The Lötschberg Base Tunnel has been in operation since 2007 and the Ceneri Base Tunnel is set to open in 2020. Switzerland is investing around CHF 23.5 billion (around EUR 21.5 billion) in the construction of the NRLA, which equates to approximately 3.5% of Swiss gross domestic product (GDP).
After completion of the work at Ceneri and on the approach routes, trains will be able to cross the Alps without having to climb any significant gradients. The time for passenger trains to travel between Zurich and Lugano will be reduced by around 45 minutes, and more freight trains will be able to cross the Alps in less time and require fewer locomotives. The efficiency and reliability of railway transport is improving which makes railways more competitive. It also strengthens the EU single market. Economic benefits and the protection of the Alpine environment have therefore been reconciled.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel – a record-breaking project
The first plans for a base tunnel between Amsteg and Bodio were drawn up in 1947. Just short of 70 years later and after a 17-year construction period, the Gotthard Base Tunnel replaces the Seikan Tunnel (53.9km) in Japan as the world’s longest railway tunnel. The breakthrough was made in October 2010. The Gotthard Base Tunnel cost around CHF 12.5 billion (around EUR 11.5 billion) and connects Bodio in the canton of Ticino with Erstfeld in the canton of Uri.
The section of line through the Gotthard Base Tunnel is around 30 kilometres shorter than the previous line that ran over the mountain and, thanks to the new tunnel, capacity has been increased. Up to 250 freight trains and 65 passenger trains can use the tunnel per day. Capacity was restricted to a maximum of 180 freight trains on the previous Gotthard mountain line. Passenger trains can now travel through the tunnel at speeds of up to 200km/h, which will increase up to 250km/h in future.
Switzerland invests for Europe
Shorter journey times makes Switzerland’s regions as well as Germany and Italy more accessible. Over 20 million people in the area between southern Germany and northern Italy alone will benefit from the Gotthard Base Tunnel. The tunnel constitutes a significant contribution by Switzerland to European transport policy and brings Europe closer together.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is both “an idea born in Switzerland” – which Switzerland has financed itself – and the result of close international cooperation. Companies and workers from around 15 countries were involved in the construction project. For example, tunnel-boring machines from Germany, shaft construction specialists from South Africa and many engineers and tunnelling specialists came from Italy, Austria and the Balkan states.