Swiss Alpine Tunnel Breaks Through

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Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW

The New York Times

April 28, 2005

Swiss Complete Digging Alpine Tunnel


Filed at 3:54 p.m. ET

GENEVA (AP) -- With a final blast through mountain granite, Swiss

engineers linked Europe's north and south by completing drilling Thursday

for the world's longest overland tunnel - a cavernous shaft that burrows

under the Swiss Alps and will shave about an hour off the travel time for

skiers in Germany heading down to resorts near the Matterhorn.

The 21-mile Loetschberg tunnel is the latest in a string of engineering

feats - from the Channel Tunnel linking France to England to a bridge

spanning Sweden and Denmark -- that are breaking down natural barriers in an increasingly borderless Europe.

The Loetschberg, set to open to trains in 2007, will be longer than the

current overland record-holder - Japan's 16.4 mile Hakkoda Tunnel - and

will come third overall behind the underwater 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel,

also in Japan, and the 31.3-mile Channel Tunnel.

It will trim to under two hours the time trains will need to cross between

Germany and Italy, a journey that now takes about 3 1/2 hours.

The Loetschberg has been dug parallel to an even more ambitious project -- the 36-mile Gotthard Tunnel, which will be the world's longest when it is completed over the next decade or so.

For Swiss taxpayers - who are footing the bill for the twin,

multibillion-dollar projects - the main selling-point is that they will

move heavy European Union trucks off narrow highways and onto trains.

The Loetschberg tunnel will have the additional benefit of getting skiers

to Swiss resorts more quickly. The trip from Bern, at the northern end of

the tunnel, to Visp near ski regions like Switzerland's Zermatt and

Italy's Courmayeur on the southern side of the tunnel, will be cut in half

-- to 55 minutes from 110.

Trips across Switzerland will be shorter, because trains won't have to

make slow, switch-back climbs to reach older tunnels. And the new track

with rails cushioned on rubber will be suitable for high-speed trains from

Germany, France and Italy.

On Thursday, after an engineer sounded three warning blasts on a horn,

dynamite blew through the 12 feet of granite still blocking the way

between the tunnel drilled from the north and the other half bored from

the south.

"With the breakthrough we have carved out the mountain for all to see. We are moving on," said Moritz Leuenberger, Switzerland's transport minister.

Switzerland is at the center of a north-south European axis where traffic

has increased more than tenfold since 1980. The Swiss have tired of

traffic jams caused by big rigs and vacationers filling their narrow


Starting in 2007, trucks will have to be loaded on to rail carts in

southern Germany and northern Italy, removing them from some of

Switzerland's most treacherous mountain roads and pristine nature areas.

"Switzerland has made here a gigantic contribution to European transport," Leuenberger said.

The final excavation for the tunnel occurred at the midpoint of the

tunnel, some 5,900 feet beneath the 12,170-foot Balmhorn mountain. The

breakthrough came 11 years after drilling began.

The two halves of the tunnel met almost perfectly: the center of the bore

coming from the north was only 5 inches off the center of the bore coming

from the south and their heights were fractions of an inch off.

As a traditional Alphorn played a mountain melody, workmen in hard hats

greeted each other, waving the Swiss flag and sharing bottles of wine.

On completion, the Loetschberg tunnel will allow freight trains to travel

at speeds of over 100 mph and passenger trains at 150 mph.

The final cost for the Loetschberg will be $3.5 billion, almost a $840

million over budget. For the combined project, the budget has now

escalated to $13.7 billion, an increase of $3 billion over original


Because of cost constraints, only the eastern tube of the Loetschberg is

now fully excavated. Drilling on the western side will be completed as

track work progresses on the eastern side.

To dig the Loetschberg, some 16 tons of explosives were used and enough rock was excavated to pack a freight train 2,500 miles long, stretching across Europe from Lisbon, Portugal, to Helsinki, Finland.

Riccardo Minister for Railways

Location: Gone. Don't bother PMing here.

I thought a new tunnel on the Aomori Shinkansen set the record

ANyway quite an achievement

ISTR that it is theoretically possible to build 2 long tunnels under the Blue Mountains with a very small open air gap on the north side of the mountains

But the change in altitude would be high, as even Lithgow is approx 800 metres above Emu Plains

With the Nats fantasising about building a freeway, it would be good to see a proposal to build a base tunnel for rail

Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW

     Swiss blast their way through Alps for historic rail link

     29.04.05 1.00pm

     By Stephen Castle

     Swiss engineers have blasted through the last few metres of rock to complete a new Alpine rail tunnel that could change the face of European transport.

     Drilling ended yesterday on the Loetschberg tunnel, the world's third longest rail tunnel, hailed as a giant step forward for Europe.

     "With the breakthrough we have carved out the mountain for all to see. We are moving on," said Moritz Leuenberger, Switzerland's Transport Minister, who told guests at a special ceremony that the Swiss were helping "to build Europe".

     About 1,000 people watched in the tunnel as an engineer blew three warning blasts before an explosion ripped through the rock.

     The Loetschberg tunnel is just over 33km long and links Frutigen, near the capital Bern, with Raron.

     The massive engineering project is one of a series of tunnels designed to help move lorries off the narrow highways of Switzerland, Austria and France and on to shuttle trains of the type used in the Channel Tunnel.

     For Alpine countries, environmental and safety problems have been growing rapidly; more than 4,000 heavy lorries cross the Swiss Alps by road every day leading to traffic jams, air pollution and accidents.

     When it is completed in 2007, the Loetschberg tunnel should shorten the journey time between Germany and Milan by an hour. Only the tunnel linking the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan, and the Channel Tunnel are longer.

     The Swiss project includes a parallel tunnel, due for completion in 2015.

     The second rail route, the Gotthard rail tunnel, will measure 60km - making it the longest in the world - and will reduce the journey time from Zurich to Milan to two-and-a-half hours. At a cost of more than NZ$17 billion, the project is well over budget and 11 people have been killed during construction.

     During the next decade two further transalpine routes are due to be built as part of an effort to get more freight traffic off the roads and on to the railways.

     One tunnel under the Brenner Pass, due to be completed by 2015, would link Verona and Munich. The other would connect Milan and Lyon and is scheduled for completion by 2015-17.

     Though funding has been a key problem, there was a recent breakthrough when EU transport ministers reached agreement on the so-called "Eurovignette", which sets up a charging structure for tolls.

     The deal will allow operators to charge a premium over and above the cash needed to repay construction costs, which are estimated to be in the order of NZ$10 billion for the Brenner tunnel alone, helping to make the projects economically viable. However they will still expect significant EU funding which has yet to be allocated.

     A spokesman for Jacques Barrot, the EU transport commissioner said: "The Eurovignette is a significant breakthrough.

     "If we now have an ambitious agreement on the EU's financial perspectives for the years 2007-13, we can do business."


Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW

The BBC report -

     Blast completes huge Swiss tunnel

     Swiss engineers have blasted through the last few metres of rock to complete a new Alpine rail tunnel that could change the face of European transport.

     The Loetschberg tunnel is 34km (21 miles) long, and runs on a route from Germany to the north of Italy.

     It is the longest tunnel in the Alps and third-longest in the world.

     Switzerland acts as one of Europe's major junctions for freight and the tunnel is meant to move cargo off the roads and onto rail.

     More than 4,000 heavy lorries cross the Swiss Alps by road every day, leading to traffic jams, air pollution and accidents.

     Eleven people died in the Gotthard road tunnel when a lorry caught fire there three-and-a-half years ago.

     Over budget

     On Thursday morning, at the northern end of the new Loetschberg tunnel near Mitholz, an engineer blew three warning blasts on a horn before an explosion that tore away the final section of rock.

     "With the breakthrough we have carved out the mountain for all to see," said Moritz Leuenberger, Switzerland's transport minister. "We are moving on."

     The Swiss rail tunnel project - including a second, parallel tunnel, due for completion in 2015 - is one of the biggest engineering projects in the world. Millions of tonnes of rock have to be shifted.

     The tunnels will create a route beneath Europe's natural north-south barrier, the Alps.

     The second rail route, the Gotthard rail tunnel, will measure 60km - making it the longest in the world - and will cut the travel time from Zurich to Milan down to only two-and-a-half hours.

     But, at a cost of more than $13bn, the project is well over budget and there are safety questions.

     Eleven people have been killed during construction so far and while the Loetschberg is scheduled to open in 2007, the Gotthard will not be ready for 10 years.

ozibob Assistant Commissioner

Location: Parkes Australia

incredible feat. Amazing what we can do these days. If only our government had the guts to do stuff like this for the benefit of the country.

Does anyone have a map of the tunnel and where it sits in Switzerland

Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW

An old BBC article on the rationale for the new Alpine rail tunnels

Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK

Analysis: Alpine road v rail

By BBC News Online's Catherine Miller

The horrific head-on crash in Switzerland's Gotthard Tunnel has once again focused attention on the future of freight transport through the Alps.

The third major road tunnel crash in two years, the Gotthard disaster proves once again that the price - both human and environmental - of allowing huge lorries to thunder through narrow Alpine passes is too high, campaigners say.

Surely the argument for rail-based freight has been won?

It's a sad irony that Switzerland, where the Gotthard tunnel lies, has made more progress than any other European country towards a rail-based transport policy.

After a series of referendums on the issue, it has now enshrined in its constitution the ultimate goal of transporting all freight by rail.

New tunnels

The construction of two major trans-Alpine rail tunnels - a 57km-long tunnel under the Gotthard road pass and the 35km-long Loetschberg tunnel - is under way as are improvements to its already outstanding rail network.

The measures are to be funded partly from an increase in income and fuel taxes but largely from a kilometre tax imposed on all heavy goods vehicles.

An poll of unionised drivers found that more than 60% had fallen asleep at the wheel within the past three months

The policy has been hailed by the European Union, who held it up as best practice in a recently published White Paper on transport.

France and Italy also plan a high-speed trans-Alpine rail link between Lyon and Turin.

That is intended to cut the amount of road freight through the Mont Blanc tunnel - scene of another horrific fire - which, after many delays, is due to open by the end of this year.

On paper rail wins over road with apparent ease.

The chances of being killed travelling by road are 35 times higher than when travelling by rail.

The European Commission calculates that every tonne transported on a kilometre of road has external costs - taking in pollution, accidents, infrastructure etc - of 0.12 euros while on rail the cost is 0.051 euros.

But in practice, the shift from road to rail is not taking place.

Just-in-time delivery

The closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel did not increase traffic on the nearby Mont Cenis rail link. Instead trucks headed for other road tunnels, including the Gotthard Tunnel - with disastrous consequences.

Thirty-nine died in the Mont Blanc tunnel fire

"The manufacturing industry's dependence on the "just-in-time" system means that the road system needs to be maintained," says Mac Urata, secretary of the inland transport section of the International Transport Federation (ITF).

Just one day after the Gotthard disaster, Italian hauliers were lobbying to be allowed in greater numbers through Austria's Brenner tunnel, warning their government that the country risked economic paralysis if they could not keep driving.

The fuel protests last summer showed just how quickly that can happen.

Road transport provides industry with "flexibility, dependability and traceability" says Frazer Goodwin, Policy Officer at the European Federation for Transport and the Environment.

But in the Alps the price paid for that is "a very high impact on the environment and on the population," he says.

Guy Willis of the International Road Transport Union which represents the haulage industry accepts that rail transportation will be the long-term solution to trans-Alpine freight.

But, he says, "the only government which has put its money where its mouth is is Switzerland".

And it will be over a decade before both Swiss rail tunnels will be in operation. Other countries have not even begun digging.

Until then, he argues, a safe road network - including two-tube tunnels - will be essential to cope with the 38% growth in demand for goods transportation which the European Commission has predicted up until 2010.

'Cowboy' operators

But safety is not a priority for many of the haulage operators who, says Mr Goodwin, are "cowboys", providing their service at bargain basement prices by cutting corners.

This often means overloading vehicles, employing drivers from non-EU countries such as Bulgaria and paying them a pittance and forcing drivers to work long hours.

An ITF poll of unionised drivers - who tend to work for the more reputable firms - found that more than 60% had fallen asleep at the wheel within the past three months.

"The freight industry must prove its safety before it is allowed to go through these tunnels," says Mr Goodwin.

And yet, until the rail industry can compete with bargain basement hauliers on price and flexibility there seems little prospect of a significant change in habits - no matter how high the cost in human lives.

Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW

(THU) Swiss engineers linked the north and south borings of the 21-mile Loetschberg rail tunnel being constructed beneath the Swiss Alps.  When completed in 2007, the tunnel will become the world’s third-longest rail tunnel, behind Japan’s 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel and the 31.3-mile tunnel underneath the English Channel.  A government spokesman said that the tunnel will be used by both passenger and freight trains and will shorten high-speed passenger rail services through Switzerland and between Germany and Italy by as much as 1-1/2 hours. (ffd: New York Times)


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