News & Reviews News Wire One tube of Gotthard Base Tunnel reopens for freight traffic

One tube of Gotthard Base Tunnel reopens for freight traffic

By David Lassen | August 23, 2023

Operating plan will allow almost 100 trains per day to use 35.5-mile tunnel

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Headlights of train emerging from tunnel
A time exposure shows the first freight train exiting the north portal of the Gotthard Base Tunnel following its reopening early Wednesday. The east tube of the tunnel will be able to handle about 100 trains per day. SBB

The east tube of the Gotthard Base Tunnel has been reopened for freight traffic and is available for almost 100 trains per day, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) reports. With that route now handling freight traffic that had been rerouted over the Gotthard Pass panorama route, improved passenger service over the panoramic route is planned as of Thursday, Aug. 24.

The base tunnel, the world’s longest rail tunnel and a key freight and passenger connection between Northern Europe and Italy, has been closed since an Aug. 10 derailment of a freight train in the tunnel’s west bore. It is not expected to be fully reopened until early 2024 [see “Gotthard Base Tunnel repairs will extend into 2024,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 16, 2023].

The east tube was opened to traffic at midnight and handled a northbound train from Swiss logistics company railCare; a southbound mail train followed. Traffic also included three bilevel passenger trainsets that had been stranded in the canton of Ticino since the closure of the base tunnel, since clearances are insufficient to move them on the panorama route.

Current plans for operation of the east tube call for four freight trains to operate in one direction, after which four freight trains will move in the opposite direction. This will allow almost 100 freight trains to use the base tunnel per day, while about 30 will continue to be rerouted via the panorama route. The total of 130 trains compares to an average of about 120 that used the base tunnel on weekdays in fall 2022. Some trains will continue to be rerouted via the Lötschberg-Simplon route, however.

The passenger-service adjustments planned for Thursday will see more trains running at their maximum length, increasing the number of seats available. SBB says day trips to Ticino are once again possible, and it has resumed accepting seat and bike reservations through Sept. 29. Also, most international services will now be able to run direct, eliminating a 60-minute delay for train changes.

‘Time-consuming’ tunnel repairs

Three men in safety gear inside tunnel
Workers inside the Gotthard Base Tunnel face demanding conditions, with temperatures that can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit. SBB

Work in the west tube damaged by the Aug. 10 derailment, blamed on a broken wheel, is proceeding slowly. Most of 16 derailed cars remain in the tunnel, and several are so badly damaged they will have to be dismantled in place to be removed, SBB says.

After that, extensive damage must be addressed. An article in the industry publication New Civil Engineer details some of the reasons repairs are expected to take months.

Along with the previously reported need to replace the crossover gate that separates the two tubes in case of an emergency, interlocking controls at the crossover must be replaced. The 20,000 concrete ties requiring replacement must be specially manufactured and cured for a month before they can be installed, and an SBB representative told New Civil Engineer just one company and one machine can produce and install these ties. Floor slabs will also need to re-poured, cured, and installed. In all, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) of the tunnel sustained damage; SBB said it can repair about 1 kilometer per week once materials are on hand.

Working conditions also play a part. With temperatures in the tunnel reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), workers use a device that alerts them when they become overheated; when that occurs, they have special cooling rooms to recover.

10 thoughts on “One tube of Gotthard Base Tunnel reopens for freight traffic

  1. The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the “jewel in the crown” of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), the biggest construction project Switzerland has ever undertaken. The NRLA comprises the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel and the Ceneri Base Tunnel.
    With the opening of the Ceneri tunnel in 2020, Switzerland completed the final key element of the rail freight corridor stretching from Rotterdam to Genoa.

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

    1. Dr. Ustan: How does the Cenari Tunnel fit into these north/south international routes? Is it on the route that has the Gotthard BaseTunnel/original “panorama” line or the Lotschberg/Simplon?

  2. The derailed freight train was carrying a significant amount of wine, which partly flooded the tracks. However, SBB said there was no danger of the wine leaking into Swiss waters.

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

  3. SBB should want DED’s at stopping distance from all turnouts.

    PRR/AMTK North River tubes have no turnouts in the tubes themselves but the Penn Station ladder tracks begin immediately on the NY side. Same applies to the East River tubes, where the ladder tracks are on the Manhattan side.

    PRR had a double-ended crane to deal with derailments in the Penn Station complex. They kept it at Sunnyside.

  4. How is it that SSB can operate 100 trains per day over what is basically a single track line? I think that only BNSF comes close with a few of their segments. Can we do it anywhere?

    1. They run short fast trains with lots of hp pulled by electric locomotives with great acceleration and regenerative braking. It is amazing to see them accelerating from a full stop.
      No land barges that barely have enough hp to get the job done.

    2. Jim Salisbury is correct. I NEVER saw a freight train longer than 33 cars in Europe.

  5. What the Swiss authorities learn and take action will be revealing. Maybe more dragging equipment locations especially near cross over doors. Stockpile of cured sleepers. other items? As well operators of tunnels should learn as well. Design of new North river bores?

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