A giant leap for the Swiss and a small step for the European transport policy

Press release, 15 October 2010, Prague, Zurich

The so-called Gotthard Base Tunnel, linking north and south Switzerland, was bored through today. Currently it is the world’s longest tunnel with 57 km length. The overall length of all tunnels and access adits totals unbelievable 152 km.

The tunnel is a part of NEAT project1, a referendum-approved new north-south transit connection via Switzerland. The tunnel is a part of high-speed connection of Zurich and Milan, passenger trains will run through it at speeds of up to 250 km/h and will shorten the journey between these cities by one hour to 2:40 hours.

The tunnel will have a great impact on freight transport between Germany and Italy, as the Swiss have rejected the construction of the second two-lane tube of the road Gotthard tunnel (the only two-lane segment of the A2 motorway) in the same referendum.„This clearly shows a concrete implementation of „trucks-onto-rails“ transport policy,“ says Vladimír Libý from Centre for Efficient Transport. At present, the A2 motorway carries over a million trucks a year. The new tunnel is expected to half the number.

„It’s characteristic that while the EU transport ministers were discussing the curtailed version of truck tolling directive, the Swiss have made a giant leap on the road to sustainable transport,“, says Petr Šlegr, the director of the Centre for Efficient Transport. The council of ministers has come to an agreement, albeit in a softened version, where truck tolling to cover the environmental damage will not be Europe-wide,, but will depend on the decision of a particular member state2. „The same truck, producing the same noise and emitting exhausts of the same toxicity will pay in one country and won’t pay in another, depending on particular governments‘ ability to resist the trucker lobby,“, says Petr Šlegr, explaining the weak points of the agreement.

The truck carriers systematically threaten that any fees impended upon them either for using the road network or for the damage they produce will eventually be paid by the consumer in the price of goods. Vladimír Libý disproves this: „The toll introduction is an absolutely rational economical step which just rectifies the twisted nature of today’s transport market. Once it is cheaper to send the goods by train for a longer distance, the producers will no longer have to resort to truck transport and the higher price of road transport will have minimum influence on them.“

Switzerland is an example of a country where it works. A high toll on trucks (up to 0.75€/km ) did not lead to complications in goods supply or to inflation. At the same time, this toll is a source of funds for the railway transport development, so it directly enhances the preferred type of transport. „The 65% of the NEAT project including the Gotthard base tunnel is funded from the collected toll. In the Czech republic, the toll barely covers the highway network maintenance costs,“, notes Šlegr. And Vladimír Libý adds one important difference against the Czech republic: „As the new tracks are built, nobody even thinks about dismantling the original track, because then there would be no positive effect on capacity. This cannot be said about some Czech projects.“

Facts about the Gotthard tunnel

  • the second „base“ tunnel in Switzerland. The first one, 35 km long Lötschberg tunnel, has been opened for transport since 2007.
  • the capacity of the current Gotthard tunnel, which is 15 km long and in service since 1882, became insufficient. Furthermore, the trains had to climb to the altitude of 1100 m above the sea level using a complicated system of bridges and viaducts.
  • the tunelling has become in 1999 and the complete finishing of gross works is expected in 2011, opening for transport is expected in 2017.
  • the tunnel was drilled from several directions using a total of four driving shields with diameter of 9.58 m. Each shield was able to drill approximately 40 meters a day.
  • the tunnel will bring a significant increase of the capacity for both passenger and freight transport
  • the Swiss have decided to build the tunnel, as well as to finance it from the truck toll, in a referendum – as a result of a referendum, it has become a part of the Swiss constitution.

3) e.g. over 100 km

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