Ceneri Base Tunnel Officially Open Completing the NRLA

The Ceneri Base Tunnel in Switzerland, the last section of the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA) to be built, started operating regular timetable services on Sunday, 13 December.

In September the SBB took over the tunnel and is now responsible for its maintenance and train operations. Test services got under way with 5,800 commercial passenger and freight trains.

Now, 28 years after the people of Switzerland voted in favour of the New Railway Link through the Alps, the project is complete and operating timetabled services. So that the full benefits of the new tunnel are activated, the SBB has done the necessary work on the approach routes as well. For example, it has completed upgrades on the Bözberg Tunnel, along Lake Zug and at Arth-Goldau Station.

Faster North-South Connections

With the opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel and the new 2021 timetable, there are now faster, more frequent services to Milan. The Ceneri Base Tunnel will also deliver improvements for regional rail services. However, there have been some COVID-related delays to a number of rail projects in the canton of Ticino, so that these improvements will be implemented in two stages – 13 December 2020 and 5 April 2021.

Passenger Service Improvements

Passengers can now travel between Zurich and Lugano in under two hours. Connections between Ticino and German-speaking Switzerland are also more frequent and 20 minutes faster on average. Passengers will benefit from modern rolling stock – Stadler’s Giruno and TILO FLIRT trains, which are low-floor for different platform heights.

Rail Freight Improvements

The 4-metre corridor is also complete. This achievement will help shift freight from road to rail by allowing semitrailers with a headroom of four metres to be transported on the route between Basel and Chiasso / Basel and Luino.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel means that longer, heavier freight trains can operate through the Alps. Trains with a length of up to 750m and a weight of 2,150t can run north-south, while trains with a weight of up to 2,000t can operate south-north.

From the end of 2022 the daily capacity will be raised to more than 3,000 positions for semitrailers. Every semitrailer transported by rail creates a carbon saving of 0.3t.

The number of freight trains will also be increased: currently freight services have 210 slots a day on the Gotthard axis. Once the final works on the Gotthard Base Tunnel are complete, this capacity will go up to 260 at the end of 2022.

Further, thanks to the completion of the NRLA, freight trains will cut two hours off their journey between Rotterdam and Milan.

However, infrastructure upgrades in Italy and Germany on the approach routes are making slow progress. The upgrades will take until 2023 in Italy and 2041 in Germany, which means that there will still be some limitations to freight traffic on some parts of the European north-south axis.

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