Gotthard Tunnel’s closure prolonged, no re-opening date in sight
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is likely to be closed longer than expected after an accident involving a freight train occurred on Thursday 10 August. Initial estimates from the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) stated that the tunnel might have been reopened on 16 August. However, the company is now claiming that “It is not yet possible to predict how long it will take to repair the damage. Passenger and freight trains will be diverted beyond August 16”.
Freight trains “up to a certain corner height” are thus being re-routed via the old Gotthard mountain route, SBB pointed out. However, for combined transport services, the situation changes because these convoys cannot pass through the old Gotthard Tunnel. Some of this traffic has been moved along the Lötschberg-Simplon axis, where there is only capacity for one extra train every hour. The rest of the combined transport traffic is being “retained in the exit terminals”, the company specified, leaving convoys parked.
The cause of the accident seems to have been a broken wheel, as the Swiss national press agency Keystone-SDA mentioned. “Federal investigators found wheel fragments and derailment marks a few miles before the crash site”, they said. Since convoys are checked for damages at the entrance of the tunnel, it could be that the wheel broke while the train was already inside the tunnel. SBB declined to comment on the cause of the accident because it still “is being clarified by the investigating authorities”.
A convoy made up of 32 freight wagons was travelling inside the Gotthard Base Tunnel at 100 km\h when a wagon derailed at the interchange in Faido. This interchange connects the two tunnels through an additional track and a special door that was hit by the derailed wagons, causing significant damage. SBB highlighted that, until the door is fixed or replaced, traffic in the tunnel cannot be allowed. Already on Friday, SBB said that the issue was with the train, and not with the infrastructure. Therefore, the thesis of a damaged wheel causing the derailment does make sense. As of 14 August in the late afternoon, 16 wagons were still in the tunnel. It is also not yet clear which company was operating the train and who was the owner of the derailed wagon. Further information from SBB is expected later this week.