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 “New Rail Link through the Alps”.
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.
- 260,000: the number of trains that have already travelled through the base tunnel in its first eight years of operation.
- 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%.
- The bse 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.
BLS plans to expand the base tunnel further
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. Full expansion to double-track running is therefore absolutely essential.
Advantages of full expansion
- This would enable half-hourly connections to the Valais as well as the stable and flexible timetabling required in the Swiss rail network.
- It would reduce production costs associated with freight traffic, because trains would 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 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 route would be used less by freight hauliers. The region would become even more attractive to tourists.
Even partial expansion between Ferden and Mitholz would result in significant improvements to rail services. However, only a full double-track expansion makes operational sense in the long term. Only full expansion would enable further long-distance connections without restricting freight traffic, which is currently growing strongly.