Traffic partially resumes in the Gotthard Base Tunnel
The Swiss Gotthard Base Tunnel was partially reopened to rail traffic at midnight on 22 August 2023. The tunnel was closed following the derailment of 16 freight carriages on 10 August 2023 which caused extensive damage to the infrastructure. Rail traffic has since been diverted in both directions via the Gotthard panoramic line wherever possible, resulting in delays in passenger traffic, and 30 per cent fewer available seats as passenger trains could not take the route.
Shortly after the partial reopening of the tunnel on Thursday, the first trains began to run through the tunnel. After a freight and postal train, three SBB duplex double-decker trains left Ticino for German-speaking Switzerland during the night. These had been blocked in Ticino since the interruption because it was not possible to run them over the ridge line. According to SBB, a number of improvements will continue to be implemented for passenger traffic via the ridge line, because in general the tunnel remains closed to passenger traffic.
With a route length of over 57 kilometres, it is the longest railway and deepest traffic tunnel in the world, as well as the first flat, low-level route through the Alps. In addition to damaging 8 kilometres of tracks, the derailment severely damaged 20,000 concrete sleepers and a lane change gate in the tunnel. The body of the track is badly damaged in the area of the Faido diagonal. The gate is essential to separating the two tunnel tubes, thus preventing the use of the second tunnel for trains. Initially, SBB anticipated a 6-day closure but later announced a months-long inaccessibility for passenger trains.
Over the last few days, test runs have been successfully carried out in the east tube. A mobile door installed to replace the badly damaged diagonal door will enable work to be carried out safely at the site of the accident in the west tube. However, the time-consuming work of clearing the accident site is still underway, and most of the 16 wagons that derailed are still in the tunnel. Indeed, several wagons are so badly damaged that they still have to be dismantled in the tunnel before being evacuated. At the same time as clearing the debris, SBB plans to repair the damaged railway installations, which will take most likely until the end of the year.
“The Gotthard Base Tunnel is one of the safest in the world”, stated SBB CEO Vincent Ducrot. “The fact that such an accident has nevertheless occurred has a huge impact on us. Fortunately, there were no injuries, but the damage is significant”.
Passenger trains are still diverted via the ridge line, which adds an hour to their journey time. From 24 August 2023, it has been possible to run more trains of maximum length. This means that day trips to Ticino are again possible. SBB is also offering discounted tickets for trains to and from Ticino. The online timetable for national trains is being regularly updated and will continue to be adapted until 1 October 2023. Reservations for seats and bicycles will be only possible again from 29 September on, however.
Holders of a general season ticket who do not wish to use it because of the longer journey times can pause it for 30 days or have it refunded in accordance with the conditions in force. From 10 September, holders of a GA Night travel card who live in Ticino will also be able to use it from 18:00 onwards on Sunday evenings. The offer will be adapted according to availability.
International trains to Italy will be running largely unchanged from now on. Their journey time will however be extended from 120 minutes to 60 minutes. Eurocity trains via Simplon will be replaced by buses between Domodossola and Milan until 10 September, due to work on the Italian rail network, meaning the journey time will be extended by around two hours on this route. The current online timetable for international trains is valid until 17 September.