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Rail conquers the Alps

Glasses will be raised in Switzerland on June 1 as the country celebrates the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Railway Gazette International is marking the occasion with this special feature compiled by Murray Hughes, and an accompanying e-book looking back over the history of the project. The Tunnel forms the centrepiece of the Swiss government’s policy to switch transit freight from road to rail, but further measures are needed if the target of reducing the number of lorries passing through the Swiss Alps is to be met. In the meantime, Swiss voters have opted to build a second Gotthard motorway tunnel … the story is far from over.

Photo: AlpTransit Gotthard

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22/04/2016 16:06:42

May 2016 | Railway Gazette International



GOTTHARD BASE TUNNEL Celebration

Photo: Lorenz Degen

National festival will mark Base Tunnel opening

Night falls on the Gotthard main line at Göschenen; from December most north-south through traffic will be routed via the Base Tunnel.

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o fewer than 17 years have passed since the first rock blast marked the start of work on the main bores of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Surpassing Japan’s 53·9  km Seikan tunnel by more than 3 km, the GBT ranks as the world’s longest railway tunnel, and the Swiss are determined to celebrate this achievement in grand style. The opening ceremonies will take place on June 1, and the organisers have promised an ‘unforgettable national festival’ geared around a ceremony that will highlight ‘the Swiss values of innovation, precision and reliability’. Events will be staged at several locations. Special trains and shuttle buses will convey guests to ceremonies near the northern portal at Rynächt and the southern portal at Pollegio. After a media event in Castione-Arbedo near Bellinzona, the official programme begins at 12.00 with speeches by Federal President Johann Schneider-Ammann at Rynächt and Federal Transport Minister Doris Leuthard at Pollegio. These will be followed by the GBT receiving an official blessing before the opening trains run through. A draw for 500 tickets to ride on the opening trains was arranged at the end of December 2015, and by the time applications closed at the end of January more than 160 000 requests had been received. Only Swiss nationals were qualified to apply, but each ticket was valid for two people. The lucky winners will be joined by two school classes chosen from those who had recently visited SBB’s school experience train. The first

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opening train is scheduled to depart from Arth-Goldau at 11.30 for Bellinzona, with the northbound special leaving Bellinzona at 11.45 for Luzern. Guests invited to the opening will be able to take part in a series of activities that include watching a GBT rescue train in operation and visits to the maintenance and emergency control centres in Erstfeld and Biasca. Several cultural and musical events are planned, together with an exhibition by Swiss artists. Perhaps the most important event of the day will be the formal handover of the Base Tunnel. Contractor AlpTransit Gotthard AG will present the structure to the Swiss government, which will then hand it to the operator, Swiss Federal Railways. SBB will have six months to carry out its own tests and to train and familiarise staff with procedures before regular commercial services start with the December timetable change. Before that, however, the public will have an opportunity to ride through the GBT over the weekend of June 4-5. A shuttle service is planned, with trains running at up to 200  km/h. Four sites have been prepared to host parties in Erstfeld and Pollegio/Biasca — up to 100 000 visitors are expected. After that SBB will run a special Gottardino service from August 2 until November 27 on Tuesdays to Sundays between Flüelen and Biasca with a special stop