The new Gotthard Base Tunnel is 57 kilometers long and is the longest rail tunnel in the world. In December 2016 the tunnel will be opened for passenger traffic and will reduce the travel time from north to south substantially. Currently, the test operation takes place and passengers can ride with the Gottardino special train through the Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Today we have the opportunity to ride with the special train Gottardino through the Gotthard Base Tunnel and get taste of this monster project. The ride on the special train includes a stop in the heart of the mountain and a visit to the Sedrun multifunction station. About 800 meters below the mountain, the Gottardino stops and we can get out of the train to visit the exhibition to the history of the Gotthard Base Tunnel during the 45-minute long stop.
The history of the Gotthard Base Tunnel
Since June 1882, the Gotthard railway line between Erstfeld and Biasca is operational and still a highlight for railway enthusiasts. The one and a half hour drive along the 88 km long route leads across five bridges, seven tunnels and has magnificent views into the valleys of the Gotthard massif.
In December 2016 the new Gotthard Base Tunnel will be opened for passenger traffic. Between Erstfeld and Biasca the train line runs through the new 57 kilometer long Gotthard Base Tunnel. This is the longest railway tunnel in the world and will be the center piece of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA).
The railway line through the Gotthard Base Tunnel is designed for speeds up to 250 km/h and the ride will be about 30 minutes shorter after the opening at the end of 2016. At the end of 2020, the time savings will be about 45 minutes after further expansion works of the railway line has been finished.
The new Gotthard Base Tunnel runs right through the Gotthard Massif and up to 2’300 meters of rock is piled up over the heads of the passengers. 17 years was the construction of this world record structure and more than 28 million tons of rock was excavated from the Gotthard massif. Can you imagine this number? In the exhibition to the history of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, we found an info board that graphically explains the 28 million tons with reference to the Matterhorn.
By train from Fluelen via the historic Gotthard Mountain route to Biasca
The north-south connection over the Gotthard mountain route includes a beautiful ride through alpine valleys and the 15 kilometer Gotthard Tunnel. The line is in operation for more than 100 years and it’s a great example of the early Swiss railway history with its sophisticated routing through the mountain landscape.
The double loop at Wassen with the two spiral tunnels excites and confuses passengers at the same time. The church of Wassen can alternately be seen out of one or the other side of the train and the direction through the valley changes three times because of the spirals tunnels.
In Biasca we hop off the train and wait with many others for the departure of the special train Gottardino. This train will take us back o the other side of the Alps through the new Gotthard Base Tunnel. The station of Biasca is normally a very quiet station but in the last few weeks became very busy because of the special train service through the tunnel. In the station is a small market with local products where we buy Gottardo beer, which is brewed locally in Faido.
What will happen to the historic Gotthard mountain route?
The historic Gotthard mountain line will remain intact and Swiss Federal Railway will operate this route as a tourist attraction in the future.
As pioneers with the Gottardino through the new Gotthard Base Tunnel
It’s time to go to the platform where the Gottardino special train is ready to board. The special train is fully booked to the last seat. The interest of the public for the new Gotthard Base Tunnel is huge and already during the whole construction phase, the mega project was covered widely by local and international media.
On the Gottardino we can experience the building of the century as pioneers. Before the train leaves Biasca, there is thorough information and a safety briefing. We almost feel like during the safety briefing in an airplane. In the Gottardino all passengers are in good hands. There are not only several conductors riding on the train but also medical personnel are present.
Shortly after Biasca we pass the operation center of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Pollegio. From this tower the entire railway traffic through the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the whole Ticino is coordinated and the safety of the rail passengers guaranteed.
After Pollegio the train slows down while entering the south portal of the Gotthard Base Tunnels, it’s getting dark and the train accelerates again. The journey through the tunnel is like any other train ride through a tunnel, except that the distance is a lot longer. After about two thirds of the journey, the train slows down again and stops at the Sedrun multifunction station.
The exhibition at the multifunctional station Sedrun
It feels very strange to stop in the middle of the tunnel and leave the train. We are in the heart of the Gotthard mountain range and we can visit the Sedrun multifunction station more than 800 meters deep under the mountain. The two multifunction stations Sedrun and Faido were built for emergencies. Both multifunction stations include interchanges and connecting tunnels to evacuate passengers as fast as possible in an emergency.
During the 45-minute stop we can walk around the multifunction station at Sedrun and take a look at the impressive exhibition about the history of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. This stop of course will no longer be possible when the tunnel will be in regular operation.
The multimedia exhibition explains the history of the Gotthard massif and the construction of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel. Based on information boards, pictures, sketches and a movie we get a good picture of the development of the mega building. We were very impressed by the short film that shows the harsh working conditions during the construction of the tunnel.
All too soon the time goes by and it’s already time again to return to the Gottardino. The doors are closing and the security staff walks through the multifunction station again. Only when all the shafts and tunnels have been checked and no passengers have been forgotten, the train starts to move again. We continue north, where we soon reach the northern portal of the tunnel and after a few minutes Erstfeld.
The security in the Gotthard Base Tunnel
It can be daunting to have up to 2’300 meters of rock above your head in the middle of the Gotthard tunnel, 28 kilometers away from the nearest exit. What if something happens? What if a fire breaks out?
The most advanced security technologies have been applied to ensure the safety of the passengers riding through the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Already before entering the Gotthard Base Tunnel, various high sophisticated testing systems and sensors and can recognize defects on the trains. The advanced operating concept of the tunnel allows that trains at intervals of three minutes run through the tunnel at high speeds.
Along the 57 kilometer long tunnel the two emergency stations Sedrun and Faido allow a rapid evacuation in case of an emergency. Every 325 meters there are connecting shafts between the two tunnel tubes. A well developed lighting and signage system facilitates self-rescue. On both sides of the Gotthard tunnel, fire and rescue trains are ready and can enter the tunnel if necessary. The whole operation of the Gotthard Base Tunnel is controlled and monitored from the control center in Pollegio South.
Improvements in passenger transport through the Gotthard Base Tunnel
The quality for travelers on the north-south axis will improve dramatically with the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel beginning of 2017. The use of new and modernized rolling stock as well as faster and more regular connections will make the journey through the Gotthard Base Tunnel more convenient and enjoyable.
The travel time from Zurich to Lugano will be about 30 minutes shorter. This is a considerable reduction from the current duration of 2 hours and 41 minutes. After the planned opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel in 2020, the time savings between the north and south will be as much as 45 minutes.
From Zurich to Milano the journey will be 3.5 hours in 2017 and from 2020 on, the distance will be covered in 3 hours.
The train cargo on the north-south axis will be more ecological
The new Gotthard Base Tunnel brings more capacity, faster connections and, above all, a more environmentally friendly way to transport goods on the north-south axis through the Alps. Swiss Federal Railway Cargo customers will benefit from environmentally friendly, efficient and uncongested transport of goods. Up to 750 meter long freight train compositions will be used in 2017. Cargo trains will be run up to four times per hour in both directions during the day. With the completion of the Ceneri Base Tunnel in 2020, freight train compositions with up to 2’000 tons will be possible.
Information on the Gottardino special train
The Gottardino only runs for a short period of time and the number of seats is very limited. The Gottardino operates every day, except Monday, from 2 August to 27 November 2016 from Flüelen to Biasca and in reverse direction. One of the directions is along the Gotthard mountain route.
Tickets can be purchased at the attended outlets of public transport in Switzerland. Tickets can also be ordered by telephone at Rail Service on 0900 300 300.
A full ticket costs CHF 139, with the half-fare travelcard the ticket costs CHF 109 and with the GA travelcard CHF 79. The ticket includes the ride with the special train Gottardino from Flüelen to Biasca (or vice versa), the visit to the exhibition in the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the ride on the Gotthard mountain railway.
On the Swiss Federal Railway website you can find more information and a detailed timetable for the Gottardino.
Are you afraid of long tunnels? What is the longest tunnel you have experienced?
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We assure our readers that we write about our personal experience and opinion.