A woman plays an alpine horn before the opening ceremony of the new Ceneri Base Tunnel near Camorino, Switzerland on September 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ARND WIEGMANN
A woman plays an alpine horn before the opening ceremony of the new Ceneri Base Tunnel near Camorino, Switzerland on September 4 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ARND WIEGMANN

Camorino — Switzerland officially opened the Ceneri Base Tunnel on Friday, the final piece in a direct, flat rail link connecting Northern Europe to the Mediterranean via routes beneath the Alps.

The 15.4km tunnel marks the completion of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), a Sf22.8bn ($25.04bn) project dubbed Switzerland’s construction project of the century.

Together with the 57.1km Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest rail tunnel which opened in 2016, and the 34.6km Lötschberg Base Tunnel, Ceneri completes a system that allows uninterrupted freight transport from Rotterdam and Genoa under the mountains.

“It’s the last part of the puzzle,” Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) CEO Vincent Ducrot told reporters. “The goal to have a flat rail line through the Alps has now been achieved.”

The tunnel, which has taken 10 years to build, runs beneath Monte Ceneri, replacing a steep surface railway that had a high-altitude tunnel at the top. Its north portal is situated at Camorino, and the tunnel breaks through the mountains in the south at Vezia, near Lugano.

Switzerland wants to use the tunnel, which is due to enter service on December 13, to transfer more freight transport from trucks to rail, decreasing CO2 emissions and protecting the Alpine environment.

“The environmental benefit is obvious, but it’s not only about the Alps,” Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga, who attended the opening ceremony, said. “It’s a competitive advantage for Switzerland and a sustainable transport policy.”

The Sf3.6bn tunnel, the culmination of Switzerland’s efforts to ease the trans-alpine journey that began with the opening of the Gotthard summit tunnel in 1882, can carry up to 170 freight trains and 180 passenger trains a day.

The project’s aim is to reduce the number of trucks crossing the Alps to 650,000 a year, cutting daily CO2 emissions by 890-tonnes. In 2019, there were about 900,000 trans-alpine truck journeys, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Transport.

Eventually, the Milan to Zurich train journey will be cut from about four hours to three hours, and the SBB plans to run direct trains to Bologna and Genoa.

Freight trains will also be able to run uninterrupted along the 1,400km stretch between Rotterdam to Genoa without technical hindrances.

Reuters

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