New Swiss Ligerz Tunnel opening postponed by three years
The start of operations in the Ligerz Tunnel, at the southern foot of the Jura Railway line in Switzerland, has been postponed by three years to the end of 2029. According to Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), this change is due to protests and appeals, as well as adjustments to the working method because of new environmental protection requirements.
Initially, the project to double the track between Ligerz (Gléresse in French) and Twann (Douanne in French) envisaged bringing the infrastructure into service by the end of 2026. At the heart of the project is the construction of a 2.1-kilometre-long double-track tunnel at Ligerz. However, the procedure for awarding the contract was delayed by around two years due to a number of appeals lodged by companies that had responded to the call for tenders. The rejection of the last appeal by the Federal Administrative Court in June 2023 finally enabled SBB to resume planning the project.
In August 2021, SBB also obtained the final construction permit from the Federal Office of Transport, which includes additional environmental measures. In order to preserve aquatic fauna and fish breeding periods, the work carried out in the lake (in particular the renovation of the banks) is subject to restrictions, which will have an impact on the overall schedule with a delay of around one year.
Excavation to begin shortly
As a result, the completion date for the work has been pushed back by a total of three years, with the new tunnel scheduled to come into service at the end of 2029, when the timetable changes. SBB “regrets this delay, which is beyond its control”, and is endeavouring to adhere to the new project schedule. Excavation work on the Ligerz tunnel will begin shortly, and detailed planning of the work is underway in collaboration with the contractor. The postponement does not affect the new transport service between Biel, Neuchâtel and Yverdon-les-Bains, which will be operational at peak times from December 2024 thanks to the introduction of the 2025 timetable and remains unchanged, assures SBB.
Some parts of the project, which began in 2020, have already been completed. Renovation work on the overhead contact line between La Neuveville and Poudeille has been completed. Work to modify the geometry of the Poudeille and Chavannes curves, as well as preparatory excavation work for the west portal area of the Ligerz tunnel, which began in 2021, has also been completed.
The construction of an additional tunnel on the line to the foot of the Jura, which is currently a single-track line and a real congestion point, will make it possible to absorb the increase in traffic on this line and improve punctuality. Thanks to the new tunnel at Ligerz/Gléresse, SBB will be able to increase the capacity of the rail network, while protecting local residents from noise pollution. In addition, local residents will benefit from a new living space along the lakeshore. The total cost of the project is around CHF 431 million (445 million euros). The financial consequences of the postponement are currently being analysed.