Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Longest and Deepest Rail Freight Tunnel Officially Open with Testing Underway

Legendary Gotthard Route to Carry Traffic from December
Shipping News Feature
SWITZERLAND – After nearly two decades of construction, the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel has officially opened in Switzerland. The 57 kilometre long Gotthard Base Tunnel which runs through the Alps, is part of a CHF23 billion infrastructure project to establish a route under the mountain range that divides northern and southern Europe, usable by both high-speed rail and heavy freight trains. Once final testing ends, commercial services are expected to begin in December 2016, around 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will travel through the tunnel daily.

The project consists of two single-track tunnels connecting Erstfeld with Bodio and passing below Sedrun. It is part of the AlpTransit project, also known as the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA), which includes the Lötschberg Base Tunnel between the cantons of Bern and Valais and the under construction Ceneri Base Tunnel, scheduled to open late 2020, to the south. It bypasses the Gotthardbahn, a winding mountain route opened in 1882 across the Saint-Gotthard Massif, which is now operating at capacity.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel overtakes Japan’s 53.85 kilometre Seikan Tunnel as the world’s longest tunnel, and travels up to 2.3 kilometres below the surface of the mountains. To excavate the tunnel, plans of which were drawn up 68 years ago, a 410 metre long boring machine was used to excavate 28.2 million tonnes of rock. It is the third tunnel connecting the cantons of Uri and Ticino after the Gotthard Tunnel and the Gotthard Road Tunnel.

Between 2002 and 2012, nine workers lost their lives during the construction of the tunnel. AlpTransit Gotthard, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swiss Federal Railways contracted by the Government to build the tunnel, held a simple ceremony to honour those who died. Four came from Germany, three from Italy, one from South Africa and one from Austria. The fatal accidents occurred on the construction sites at Amsteg (1), Sedrun (2), Faido (3) and Bodio (3).

Photo: Tunnelling through the Alps is a tradition which has been steadily advancing with technology opening ever more ambitious routes.