The Gotthard tunnel has re-opened almost a month after a landslide forced the closure of the main north-south route for freight trains and trucks through the Swiss Alps.
The June 5 shutdown had a major impact on trans-Alpine traffic, as some 120 freight trains every day travel through the 10 mile long tunnel, the shortest route between Rotterdam, Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr industrial belt and northern Italy’s highly industrialized Lombardy region.
Freight trains were transferred to an alternative route through the Simplon Pass but capacity was restricted by maintenance and restoration work.
Truck traffic diverted through Austria’s Brenner Pass also faced congestion due to temporary closures for maintenance work.
Following the shutdown, Hupac, the combined transport operator that hauls trucks and containers by rail through the Alps, warned shippers might spurn the route because of the Gotthard’s unreliability. About 930,000 trucks use the Gotthard every year.
Two new rail tunnels under construction, the Gotthard Base Tunnel due to open in 2016, and the Ceneri Base Tunnel, opening in 2019, will significantly increase capacity, especially for freight.
The new tunnels will create a flat rail link with a highest point of 1,800 feet above sea level compared with a peak of 3,775 feet above sea level of the existing route. Freight trains on the new route will be much longer, pull twice as much weight – 4,000 metric tons against 2,000 tons - and travel twice as fast as current trains.
The Swiss government last week decided to build a second road tunnel through the Gotthard Pass, costing $ 3 billion and due to open in 2027 at the earliest.
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