Switzerland opens Ceneri Base Tunnel

7 September 2020

Switzerland’s 15.4km Ceneri Base Tunnel (CBT) was officially opened on Friday 4 September after 10 years of construction work. Its completion forms the third and final component in the US$25bn New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) flat route linking northern Europe to the Mediterranean.

Built by Alp Transit Gotthard, the US$3.9bn CBT, which is anticipated will enter service in December 2020, has been driven through Monte Ceneri. It replaces the older, higher-altitude tunnel on the steep surface railway and will be used to increase rail freight, decrease the amount of road haulage in the country and so cut CO2 emissions. Its conveyance capacity per day is expected to be up to 170 freight trains and 180 passenger trains.

The twin bore CBT was excavated almost entirely by drill and blast. Its 8.5m-diameter twin tubes lie around 40m apart and are connected by a total of 46 cross passages, one every 325m. Maximum overburden is around 1,040m.

Completion of the CBT is the final piece in the NRLA jigsaw puzzle which also comprises the 57.1km Gotthard Base Tunnel (the longest rail tunnel in the world) and the 34.6km Lötschberg tunnel.

The three-tunnel NRLA system will allow continuous rail travel without technical hindrance from Rotterdam to Genoa – a distance of 1,400km. Journeys on the new flat route will no longer require the assistance of a pushing locomotive through Switzerland. The journey time between Zurich and Milan will be cut by around 60 minutes to three hours.

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) CEO Vincent Ducrot said: “It’s the last part of the puzzle. The goal to have a flat rail link through the Alps has now been realised.”