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The new Lötschberg Base Tunnel together with the century-old Simplon Rail Tunnel form the western part of the Alptransit project
(yellow: major tunnels, red: existing main tracks, numbers: year of completion)
The north portal in Frutigen
South portal near Raron

The Lötschberg Base Tunnel (LBT) is a 34.577 km (21.485 mi) long new railway tunnel on the BLS Lötschbergbahn's Lötschberg Line cutting through the Alps of Switzerland some 400 m (1,312 ft) below the existing Lötschberg Tunnel. It is the longest land tunnel in the world, accommodating both passenger and freight trains, and running between Frutigen, Berne and Raron, Valais. Breakthrough was made in April 2005, and construction ended in 2006. The opening ceremony of the tunnel took place on Friday 15 June 2007.[1][2] Full scale operation began on 9 December 2007.[3]

Contents

Project

Built to ease truck traffic on Swiss roads, this tunnel allows an increased number of trucks and trailers to be loaded onto trains in Germany, pass through Switzerland on rail, and be unloaded in Italy. It also cuts down travel time for German tourists heading for Swiss ski resorts and puts the Valais into commuting distance to Berne due to a travel time reduction by 50%. The total cost (including an $840 million cost overrun) has come to 3.5 billion dollars. Along with the Gotthard Base Tunnel, this is part of the Swiss AlpTransit initiative.

Initial exploration

Track construction inside the Lötschberg base tunnel was completed on 24 July 2006. Extensive testing then took place, including more than one thousand test runs, which focused among others on the use of the ETCS Level 2 system. For the first half year after the opening ceremony in June 2007, only regular freight made use of the tunnel, plus some international and InterCity passenger trains without stops between Spiez and Brig; however, the passenger trains used the old timetable (the travel time between Spiez and Brig was considered to be 56 minutes until December 2007, even if actual travel time through the base tunnel was only about 30 minutes).

Since February 2008, the tunnel is in use for normal InterCity routes. Since that moment, travel time between Visp and Spiez is about 28 minutes, of which about 16 minutes are spent inside the tunnel.

Completion status

Due to the soaring costs of the AlpTransit initiative, funds have had to be diverted to the more prestigious Gotthard Base Tunnel; therefore the Lötschberg Base Tunnel is only half finished. The fully completed tunnel will consist of two single track bores side by side from portal to portal that are connected about every 300 metres (984 ft) with cross cuts, enabling the other tunnel to be used for escape.[4] Currently from South to North one third of the tunnel is double track, one third single track with the second bore in place, and one third with only one single track railway tunnel, the parallel exploration adit providing emergency egress. The construction has been divided into three phases, only phase 1 has been completed so far:

  • Phase 1: construction of about 3/4 of the length of the West tube and the complete East tube of the main tunnel, the Engstlige tunnel, the two bridges across the Rhône, and the branch bore from Steg. Tracks are laid in the Eastern tubes of Lötschberg Basis and Engstlige tunnels, and for some 12 km (7.5 mi) in the western tube of Lötschberg Basis, starting from the South.
  • Phase 2: laying of tracks in the bored but not equipped part of the western tube of LBT, and in the western tube of Engstlige tunnel.
  • Phase 3: construction of the remaining 8 km (5.0 mi) of western tube, laying of tracks on the Steg branch, and connection of this branch to the main line Brig-Lausanne, but towards Lausanne.

Phases 2 and 3 may be done at the same time. Completing the tunnel is estimated to cost about a billion Swiss francs. The project also includes two parallel bridges over the Rhône river in canton Valais, the 2.6 km (1.6 mi) Engstlige tunnel (built with cut-and-cover method; the two tracks are separated by a wall).

Operation

Around 110 trains a day run through the new base tunnel, and 66 through the old mountain tunnel, because of the single track. Of the 110 trains which pass the base tunnel, 30 are passenger trains and 80 are freight trains, including both intermodal freight transport as well as heavy freight trains. Heavy freight trains up to a maximum weight of 4000 tons and a maximum length of 1500 metres have to use the new tunnel, as they are unable to pass the existing mountain track.

As there are about 21 km of single track without passing loops, a train that is more than 7 minutes late is either routed via the old line (incurring further delay), or it will have to wait for the next available timetable slot in the base tunnel.

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Travel speeds

  • Regular freight trains: 100 km/h (62.1 mph)
  • Qualified freight trains: 160 km/h (99.4 mph)
  • Passenger trains: 200 km/h (124.3 mph)
  • Tilting passenger trains: 250 km/h (155.3 mph)

Geothermal energy

The warmth of the water flowing out of the tunnel is used to heat the Tropenhaus Frutigen, a tropical greenhouse producing exotic fruit, sturgeon meat and caviar.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Swiss Open World's Longest Land Tunnel". Washington Post. 2007-06-15. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/15/AR2007061500763.html.  
  2. ^ "Huge Swiss tunnel opens in Alps". BBC. 2007-06-15. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6755953.stm. Retrieved 2007-06-19.  
  3. ^ TSR Journal 15/06/2007, édition du 19h30
  4. ^ TSR "Gotthard: From Dream to Nightmare" "Temps Present" 24 May 2007

External links


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