Lötschberg Base Tunnel: a new Alpine rail link to connect Europe
The Lötschberg Base Tunnel is the centrepiece of the BLS infrastructure. It is one of the safest, most modern and most technically complex rail tunnels in the world. Together with the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Monte Ceneri Base Tunnel (currently under construction), it represents one of the most important components of the NRLA, the ʻʻNew Rail Link through the Alpsʼʼ.
Since the Lötschberg Base Tunnel was first commissioned in 2007, it has been impossible to imagine Swiss transport infrastructure without it. Whether commuters on their way from Valais to Berne, holidaymakers travelling from German-speaking Switzerland to the Valais mountains or business travellers making the journey to northern Italy, the tunnel reduces the journey time for them all. Freight, too, passes through the Lötschberg section of what is termed the "Rhine Alpine Corridor" at all hours of the day and night.
- 371,536 This is the number of trains travelling through the Base Tunnel (based on figures for 2018).
- A total of 50 passenger trains and up to 60 freight trains use the base tunnel every day.It is therefore operating at an average of 80% capacity.Some days, the figure even rises to 100% – higher capacity utilisation of the rail line can scarcely be achieved if seasonal fluctuations are taken into consideration.
- The base tunnel is 34.6 kilometres long. Of those, however, only 14 kilometres currently consist of double-track lines. Structural work is still being carried out on parts of the western tube, while another section has not yet been tunnelled.
- Record: In 2018, 33.2 million gross tonnes of freight were transported on the Lötschberg axis (Base Tunnel and mountain line). The market share of the Lötschberg axis in transalpine freight transport through Switzerland was therefore just under 50.
BLS is upgrading the Base Tunnel
The Lötschberg Base Tunnel is currently stretched to the limit.This is due firstly to the rapid growth of passenger and freight traffic and secondly to the limited capacity caused by the long single-track section.The 21-kilometre single-track route makes it impossible to expand passenger and freight traffic, significantly reduces the options available for timetabling and results in high operating costs.Expansion to double-track running is therefore absolutely essential.In the summer of 2019, BLS was given the green light to upgrade the Base Tunnel. The Swiss parliament has approved the 2035 upgrade plan, which includes expanding the Lötschberg Base Tunnel.
Advantages of an expansion:
- This will make a half-hourly service between the Cantons of Bern and Valais possible.
- It will increase timetable reliability and flexibility throughout the entire Swiss rail network.
- It will reduce production costs associated with freight traffic, because trains will no longer need to take the significantly longer mountain route.This would make rail freight more competitive compared to road haulage and support implementation of the Federal Government's policy of transferring heavy goods traffic from road to rail.
- The Alpine region continues to present topographical difficulties. Alternative options are important. The Lötschberg and Gotthard routes therefore offer complementary solutions.
- Full expansion would make maintenance and post-incident intervention easier.
- The mountain line will be relieved of freight traffic. This will benefit both the environmentally-sensitive Alpine region and local tourism.