Test drive Ceneri Base Tunnel halted, 1.5 metre distance not possible

Work on the Swiss Ceneri Base Tunnel, the last to facilitate seamless rail freight traffic between north and south Europe, has been temporarily suspended. The current hygiene regulations that are in place to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus could not be followed. This was announced by AlpTransit Gotthard, the constructor of both the Ceneri Base and the Gotthard Tunnel.

The phase where the tunnel works come to a standstill proved to be the test drive. These test drives could not be done complying to the safety requirements, as the required 2-meter distance in the driver’s cab was not maintained. The test operation has therefore be suspended until 19 April 2020, in consultation between AlpTransit Gotthard (ATG) and SBB, the infrastructure manager in Switzerland.

Exceptional situation

ATG has received an exemption from the Canton of Ticino to continue work related to the commissioning of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, explained the contractor. This exemption was possible due to the current corona crisis, which the Federal Council classified as an ‘exceptional situation’ according to the Epidemic Act.

With regards to maintenance activities in the tunnel, ATG is currently evaluating whether this can be done in compliance with the current rules. Based on this evaluation, it will be decided whether the maintenance activities can be continued.

Impact on completion

It is currently not clear whether the temporary suspension has an effect on the planned opening date of the tunnel. The Ceneri Base Tunnel is scheduled to be inaugurated by the Swiss president on 4 September 2020, and become operative in December this year. ATG, SBB and the Swiss Federal Office of Transport are looking into the further course of the project.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel is part of the New Railway link through the Alps (NEAT), aimed at a shift of freight from road to rail. In 2008, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel was opened. The modal shift was further encouraged with the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016. The Ceneri Base Tunnel is considered the final link, which should clear the entire north-south axis for 4-metre height trains. This should have a major impact on traffic from north to south Europe.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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