The NRLA is complete with the opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel
The Ceneri Base Tunnel completes the flat rail route through the Alps for passenger and goods traffic. After the Gotthard and Lötschberg base tunnels, the Ceneri Base Tunnel, with a length of 15.4km, is the third-largest construction project of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA). On 4 September 2020, the Ceneri Base Tunnel was ceremonially opened, which means that the continuous flat railway link from Altdorf to Lugano is now a reality. Dieter Schwank, CEO of AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd, explains more.
Since the Gotthard railway line first went into operation, Monte Ceneri has been an obstacle on its route to the south. In the few kilometres between the railway stations at Giubiasco in the north and Rivera-Bironico in the south, and at a gradient of up to 26‰, trains overcome an altitude difference of almost 250m. With the construction of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, this hurdle is removed – and the flat route through the Alps continues to Vezia, just before Lugano.
From vision to project
Also, with the Ceneri Base Tunnel, the journey from vision to implementation was long and strewn with obstacles. In itself, construction of a base tunnel under the Ceneri was always an integral component of the NRLA concept. While construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel could begin in 1999, whether the Ceneri Base Tunnel would also ever be implemented remained uncertain for a long time. This was because, since the time when fundamental decisions were taken in the 1990s, the financial environment had deteriorated to such an extent that several major railway projects had to be redimensioned or divided into phases. One of these was the Ceneri Base Tunnel, and what followed was a years-long debate concerning the way forward for the southern part of the Gotthard axis.
The decisive turning-point in favour of the Ceneri Base Tunnel only came after the establishment of a new financing model for the construction of public-transport infrastructure projects known as FinöV, which is now the Railway Infrastructure Fund (RIF). This comprehensive decision regarding transport policy was approved by Swiss voters on 29 November 1998. It also secured the financing of the Ceneri Base Tunnel.
Twin-track tunnel or two tubes?
Originally, a twin-track tunnel was foreseen for the Ceneri. However, safety considerations and new standards at the European level caused the project to be revised several times and – similar to the Gotthard Base Tunnel – extended to two single‑track tubes.