The Gotthard Base Tunnel running under the Swiss Alps is one step closer to completion: all 290 km of track for the new flat rail link are now laid. The 57-km tunnel, which is the central component of the CHF 9.74 billion project, will surpass the current world record for the longest tunnel held by the Japanese Seikan tunnel. At a maximum altitude of 550m, the base tunnel is about 600m lower than the present line’s summit and overall renders the Gotthard route no more challenging than many other parts of the SBB network.
The tunnel was built in response to EU dissatisfaction with Switzerland’s tough road freight regulations that severely limit the transport of goods across the Alps. Beginning in December 2016, trains will be able to run into Italy via Ticino. The new development will reduce travel time between Zurich and Milan by nearly one hour and reduce freight congestion in the current tunnel. Planners have future-proofed the project and have anticipated likely advances in freight vehicle technology to allow for speeds up to 200km/h through the tunnel. They have also considered the need for longer trains, and more of them, which would double the present freight capacity on the Gotthard route. Alp Transit, the company which will operate the tunnel, calculates the amount of freight that will be transported at around 40 million tonnes annually.