The Infrastructure Progress Report

An in-brief look at the status of current railway infrastructure projects in Europe.

What: Ceneri Base Tunnel

Where: Switzerland

Scheduled opening: 4 September 2020

railway infrastructure projects
CBT Vezia exit, Switzerland

The Ceneri Base Tunnel in Switzerland forms the final component of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLS). It means there will be a flat railway line running through the Alps. It is named after the mountain through which it runs.

The other two base tunnels that are part of the NRLA are the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel, which opened in 2016, and the 34.57km Lötschberg Base Tunnel, which opened in 2007.

Construction of the Ceneri Base Tunnel began in 2006. The construction company behind the project is AlpTransit Gotthard AG (ATG), which is wholly owned by Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). In 2018 the Ceneri Base Tunnel won the European Railway Award.

  • Its total length will be 15.4km
  • It features 2 single-track tubes
  • It is electrified at 15kV / 16.7Hz AC
  • Starting point: Camorino
  • End point: Vezia
  • Maximum speed in the tunnel: 250km/h

Current project status: on 31 May 2018 the project celebrated a milestone as all 66km of tracks through the tunnel were laid. Then, AlpTransit Gotthard AG was busy installing the overhead lines and the electrical equipment for the power supply, the telecommunications systems, the control technology and the safety systems. By mid-2019 the installation of all railway technology was complete.

Starting in March 2020, test runs will begin through the tunnel. These will continue until August. Hundreds of test runs will take place around the clock and under realistic operating conditions to ensure everything is working correctly.

What: Albula Tunnel

Where: Switzerland

Scheduled opening: end of 2021

Railway tunnel infrastructure
Albula Tunnel, Switzerland

There already exists one Albula Tunnel. It was found in 2006 that this tunnel was in a poor state of repair, not least because of the effect of the pressure of the mountain above it. A decision had to be made whether to perform extensive renovation works on this tunnel or whether to construct a new one. By 2010, the new option was favoured. The new tunnel will be located roughly 30m from the old one. Following the opening of the new Albula Tunnel, the old tunnel will be turned into a safety tunnel by the end of 2022.

One notable feature of the original 1903 Albula tunnel under the Albula Pass in the Swiss Alps is that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Consequently, Rhaetian Railway has been working closely with the authorities to safeguard the site appropriately.

Following the beginning of the construction works in 2015, a key milestone occurred on 2 October 2018, the date of the tunnel breakthrough.

  • Its total length will be 5860m
  • It runs around 1,000m under ground
  • It is electrified at 11kV / 16 2/3Hz AC
  • Starting point: Preda
  • End point: Spinas
  • Gauge: 1,000mm / single-track
  • Maximum elevation: 1,820m – one of the highest railway tunnels in the Alps

Current project status: on 31 August 2019 Rhaetian Railway held an open day in the tunnel to allow visitors to see the progress of the works. Over the next two years works will focus on the tunnel shell. During this ‘cladding / interior works’ phase, the tunnel shell will be completed in phases: tunnel floor, double-shell tunnel vault, verges, entrance and exit structures. If the works take place on schedule the tunnel will connect the Albula Valley and the Upper Engadine and open to trains in 2022.

What: Grand Paris Express, Line 15 South

Where: Paris, France

Scheduled opening: 2022

Paris Express Line
Paris TBM

Current project status: Line 15 South is getting a new tunnel boring machine (TBM). In August, the starting bell, the front and intermediate shields and the cutting wheel along with the skirt and extraction screw were assembled at the bottom of the shaft located in what will become Créteil L’Échat station.

In September the tunnel boring machine will be moved into the starting bell, while the trailers will be lowered and assembled. In October then the first tests and trials will take place. The TBM is expected to start operations in mid-October. It will be at that time that it will be given its name during a traditional baptism.

What: Rail Baltica

Where: Latvia

Scheduled opening: 2026

Rail Baltica Line
Broad gauge and standard gauge track on Rail Baltica line

Rail Baltica is a Greenfield transport infrastructure project that aims to connect the Baltics with the European rail network via a new standard-gauge railway line. Once complete, it will connect Poland with Finland via Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia over a length of 870km. Having completed the planning phase, the project is now in the design phase, for which it is announcing numerous tenders.

In July RB Rail AS announced a tender for the design and design supervision services of the Rail Baltica main line North and South sections in Latvia.

Tender lot 1 measures 94km and runs from Vangaži to the Latvian-Estonian border. This section will likely include 36 road viaducts, 13 bridges, 3 railway viaducts, 3 animal crossings, 119 culverts and regional stations.

Lot 2 measures 45km in length. It runs from Misa to the Latvian-Lithuanian border. This section should include 16 road viaducts, 4 bridges, 4 railway viaducts, 1 animal crossing, 54 culverts and regional stations.

The winning contractors will deliver the design and design supervision services for the construction of the railway track substructure, the superstructure, and related civil structures for the new standard-gauge high-speed double-track electrified railway.

In August 2019 the Logistics Alliance Germany (a public-private partnership between the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and the German logistics industry) visited Rail Baltica AS to learn about the status of the project and about the potential for co-operation.

The project is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

What: Recoletos Tunnel

Where: Madrid, Spain

Scheduled completion: November 2019

railway tunnel
Recoletos Tunnel Spain

Spanish rail infrastructure manager Adif is investing more than 45 million euros in refurbishing the Recoletos Tunnel in Madrid. The original tunnel construction works began in 1933 but it wasn’t until 1967 that it entered service.

These renovation works, which began in June this year, will affect the route, electrification and signalling to increase reliability on the line.

The tunnel is 7km long. It connects Atocha Station and Chamartín and accommodates around 470 trains – 200,000 passengers – every day. It is the busiest section on the Spanish railway network. In total, these upgrade works will affect five commuter lines. As a result, train operator Renfe has set up an alternative transport plan.

The main upgrade works are as follows: replacing track and sleepers, replacing the flexible catenary with a rigid catenary, modernising the signalling equipment.

So far, Adif has removed 35,000 cubic metres of ballast along with 15km of track.

40 percent of the pipes for signalling and telecommunications cables have been laid.

23,000 cubic metres of concrete will be poured. During peak operations 150 concrete mixers will enter the tunnel every day. Adif will install 24,500 new sleepers.

The project is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.

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