This month’s biggest rail development by far is the official opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland on Dec. 11. This 35-mile low-altitude tunnel bypasses the existing route through the old nine-mile Gotthard Tunnel, some 2000 feet higher. The new tunnel permits passenger trains to cut travel time between Luzern and Ballinzoila by around 45 minutes allows much longer, heavier freight trains. Both Gotthard tunnels are part of one of Europe’s major passenger and freight corridors, connecting Zurich and Basel in the north with Milan and Genoa in the south.
The original Gotthard was the first big Alpine tunnel, and it required spiral tunnels on both ends to reach the tunnel portal. This combination of circular tunnels and steep grades meant that Gotthard passenger trains were slow and freight trains limited in length. In effect, a true bottleneck.
Passenger service officially starts Dec. 11, with the new winter timetable. Express trains over the route will use the new tunnel exclusively. The old route will remain in service, however, for local passenger and freight service to cities and towns along the old route. I took a nostalgia trip on it earlier this year, and travelers with enough time will still be able to enjoy some of the world’s best railway scenery on a local train. More information
— Ed Perkins, editor
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