New Rail Link through the Alps to Open Fully in December

Both the Ceneri Base Tunnel and the 4-metre corridor between Basel and Chiasso will become operational in December 2020. Rail freight will benefit from the fact that more cargo can be moved on to the north-south axis. The Gateway Basel Nord will help in these efforts.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel is the last remaining link of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) that remains to be completed. Once it opens to rail traffic on 13 December 2020, all freight rail operations will be able to move more capacity and run faster, more reliable connections. It has been a 28-year wait since the high-speed rail link through the Alps was approved by Swiss voters in a mandatory referendum.

Up to six 750m freight trains, weighing up to 2,100t are to use the Gotthard Base Tunnel per hour and per direction in the future, depending on demand. There are still some restrictions in the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Consequently, rail freight operations will get four to five (alternating) lines per hour and direction between 13 December 2020 and the end of 2022. Two of those will run to Luino, Italy, thereby avoiding the Ceneri Base Tunnel.

Because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic at Chiasso Station, beyond Gallerate and to the south of Milan, it seems likely that the 750m freight trains will only be able to run from June 2021.

Markus Streckeisen, Head of Sales, SBB Cargo, said:

“Despite these limitations, we at SBB Cargo believe that we will be able to satisfy the expected customer demand at the required quality.”

Priority Axis 24: Rotterdam-Genoa

Thanks to co-ordinated timetabling, harmonised construction sites and optimised border dwell times, rail freight operations will benefit from a reduction in travel time of two hours on the European axis Rotterdam-Genoa from 2021.

Sven Flore, CEO, SBB Cargo International, said:

“Rail freight clients in Europe will in future benefit from efficient, congestion-free and environmentally friendly solutions.

“The feeder routes in the north will only be completed in 2040, i.e. very much later than was originally agreed with Germany. Italy on the other hand is on schedule with its expansion of rail freight, apart from the brief restrictions resulting from the full closure of the Luino Line in April 2021, where Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI) will make the line double track near Pino. During this time rail freight operations will be diverted to Italy via Chiasso as well the Lötschberg-Simplon axis.”

Last year 900,000 lorries crossed the Swiss Alps by road. That is still 250,000 lorry trips more than the Swiss federal government had anticipated for mid-May 2020 with regards to its modal shift targets and the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016.

Once the Bözberg Tunnel and the Paradiso Tunnel are complete, the New Rail Link through the Alps and the 4-metre corridor between Basel and Chiasso and Luino will become a reality at the end of the year. That means the second north-south axis (along with the Gotthard and Ceneri tunnels) through the Alps will be operational.

South portal of the Lötschberg Base Tunnel
South portal of the Lötschberg Base Tunnel (NRLA)

Gateway Basel Nord

National and international logistics chains must be viewed within the European context. Doing so makes it clear that Switzerland needs the necessary infrastructure in order to process 750m trains efficiently. The solution for shifting transalpine traffic on to rail could lie at the entrance to the NLTA in Basel.

The trimodal terminal Gateway Basel Nord, where the Rhine, road and rail meet, could become this freight hub, with a direct transfer from ship to rail, in just a few years. An efficient bundling of the import/export transports could take more than 100,000 lorry journeys off the roads, thereby saving 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in Switzerland.

The population of Basel will vote this autumn on the expansion of Dock 3. Irrespective of the outcome of the vote the project group Gateway Basel Nord is continuing to work on the implementation of the bimodal terminal for an efficient shift to rail. This will give rail freight a clear run from the North Sea to the Mediterranean from the end of 2022.

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