Ceneri Base Tunnel, is it really the missing link on the corridor?

Image: Deutsche BahnDeutsche Bahn

The Ceneri Base Tunnel was an important piece of the puzzle, but certainly not the last on the corridor from Rotterdam to Milan. Which other missing links does the Rhine-Alpine Corridor have? And what is the next big milestone? We talked about it with Guus de Mol, President of the Management Board of the Rhine-Alpine Corridor.

On Thursday 4 September the Ceneri Base Tunnel was opened. This tunnel through the Swiss Alps is considered the final link, which should clear the entire north-south axis for 4-metre height trains. Earlier milestones on the NRLA were reached in 2008, when the Lötschberg Base Tunnel was opened, and in 2016, with the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016. This December, trains with a 4 metre height can run from the Netherlands to Italy and back.

It is an important milestone and flagship project on the Rhine-Alpine corridor, which connects industrial hubs as Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Antwerp, Duisburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Basel, Zurich, Milan and Genoa. However, there are other projects of equal importance to provide seamless travel, says de Mol. And in the eyes of many, the development to upgrade the line from Rotterdam to Milan is too slow, he explains.

German missing links

“The Dutch can be quite proud because the Betuweroute route was already opened ten years ago, this is an important piece of the puzzle. The Swiss are now finishing their part, although they have some work to do on the Lötschbergtunnel, where capacity will be increased. But, the big waiting is on the missing links in Germany, and the Germans are facing a lot of problems to get things ready”, said the Rhine-Alpine Corridor representative.

These problems relate to the Third Track, or the German part of the Betuweroute, but also to the works on the section between Mannheim and Basel. “The willingness is there and works are ongoing, but there seem to be problems with the obtaining of permits”, he explains. This dynamic, where one country completes a project while another country takes much longer, is inefficient and makes that an upgraded corridor can take longer than desired, he explains.

Works ongoing

Indeed, the Third Track in Germany is still far from being realised. Last November, construction on the Oberhausen section started. In the Dinslaken, Voerde and Rees sections, construction is still in the planning phase. In the Rees section, preliminary building activities started in September 2019. In September and December 2019, the planning approval decision was issued for the Dinslaken and Voerde sections. Preparatory work in Voerde and Dinslaken was awarded in December 2019. This was reported in the annual report (2019) of the Rhine-Alpine Corridor. In the meanwhile, more planning approval decisions may have been taken.

Also on the Karlsruhe – Basel section, last year was a year of planning and preparation. On the line from Mullheim to Basel several construction works started, while the line from Kennzingen to Mullheim is still in the approval phase. A noteworthy development was the next phase in the Offenburg tunnel project. In April this year Deutsche Bahn invited the public to information sessions in which it will outline its plans for the construction of the 11km freight dedicated structure.

These are important links on the corridor. To stick with the Offenburg tunnel, it will be primarily used by freight trains, whereas passenger trains will run above the ground. By using the underground tunnel, freight trains bypass Offernburg’s Main station. It is designed for a maximum speed of 120 km/h and consists of a single-track twin tube: one of 11 km length and one 9km long. But also the Third track will bring about a significant boost to the corridor, as it is not until this line is completed that the Betuwe Route reaches its full potential.

Choosing rail

Until such links are not completed, the benefits of certain milestones cannot be fully consumed, concludes de Mol. “As a corridor, you try to align such projects as much as possible, but this is not always happening. For example, a while back we were informed that the Germans projected to implement ERTMS up till Venlo in 2027, but when we checked in Venlo, this was not yet in their plan. As a corridor, it is our job to try aligning such projects.

“In Switzerland, they made a conscious choice”, he continues. “They have the Alps, and they either had to build a lot of roads to cross these mountains, or invest in railways. They clearly choose railways. And because it was a decision taken upfront, there was little resistance from the public.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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