Switzerland is a pivotal point in the European transport network, as a large share of international freight traffic and passenger traffic travelling from the north to the south of the continent (and vice versa) crosses the Swiss Alps.
Switzerland has built many rail and road tunnels through the mountains to make it easier to transport goods and people across the natural barrier of the Alps. 39 million tonnes of goods were freighted by road and rail through the Alps in 2015. This is more than twice as much as in 1981, one year after the Gotthard road tunnel opened. Unlike its neighbours, Switzerland transports most of its transalpine freight by rail. It actively pursues a policy that promotes the transfer of freight from road to rail in order to reduce the volume of heavy goods vehicles crossing the Alps and, in doing so, protect these mountain regions and their communities.
To tackle the growing volume of freight traffic and improve transalpine passenger traffic, the Confederation decided to build the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), one of the largest construction projects in the world. When finished, the NRLA will provide Europe with a viable and effective alternative to transporting goods and people by road. Thanks to connections with the European standard and high-speed rail networks, Switzerland will make it much easier for people to travel between Europe's main cities.
The NRLA has required the construction of three new tunnels at the Lötschberg, Gotthard and Ceneri, as well as changes to the access lines. These "flat rail lines", as they are known, have lower uphill and downhill gradients, which means that trains will be able to travel at higher speeds, be fitted with more carriages, and pull more weight. The new Lötschberg rail line has been opened since 2007, while the Gotthard line will only enter into operation in 2019 after the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016 and the Ceneri Base Tunnel in 2019. Stretching over 57 km, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the longest rail tunnel in the world.