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“Big Dig” Watch — February 2016

The future terminal of East Side Access The future terminal of East Side Access

Here’s our ongoing status report on some of the most important “big dig” rail projects that will have a major impact on travelers when they’re finally finished. We focus on those that are actually in progress, funded and with realistic completion dates.

East Side Access.

  • Location: New York City
  • Objective: Allow Long Island trains to use Grand Central Station as well as Penn Station.
  • Traveler benefit: Easy, fast AirTrain-rail access from JFK Airport to Manhattan’s East Side, where many of the city’s most important business centers and hotels are located. Also free up track capacity to allow some Metro-North trains to use Penn Station.
  • Project: Tunnels in Manhattan, Queens and under the East River, plus new low-level terminal at Grand Central.
  • Status: Tunnels completed.
  • Opening date: September 2023.
  • More information:


  • Location: London
  • Objective: Connect British rail services to the West of London with those to the East.
  • Traveler benefit: Cross-London rail service much faster than on the Underground; rail service from Heathrow and Stansted Airports to stops across central London.
  • Project: Tunnels under central London between (roughly) Paddington and Liverpool Street Stations, with intermediate stops in central London and connections to suburban networks.
  • Status: Tunneling mostly complete.
  • Opening date: December 2018
  • More information:

Alpine Base Tunnels.

Austria, France, Italy, and Switzerland are building a series of “base” tunnels to speed passenger and freight travel through the Alps. Most replace existing tunnels, once among the world’s longest, hundreds of feet lower to eliminate the steep grades and sharp turns of obsolete lines; all will allow high-speed operation up to 125 mph and sharply decrease travel times on very busy rail corridors:

  • Lotschberg Base Tunnel, 21 miles between Brig and Spiez, Switzerland, on the Milan-Basel corridor. Opened in 2007 with 14 miles of single track; double tracking of another 7 miles financed; completion date uncertain.
  • Gotthard Base Tunnel, 35.5 miles long between Erstfeld and Bodio, Switzerland, on the Zurich-Milan corridor; 2000 feet below the existing tunnel. Tunneling and track-laying complete; currently testing; scheduled opening June 1 this year.
  • Ceneri Base Tunnel, 9.6 miles between Bellinzona and Lugano, Switzerland, also on the Zurich-Milan corridor, complementing the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Tunnel breakthrough this year; scheduled opening in 2019.
  • Semmering Base Tunnel, 17 miles between Gloggnitz and Murzzuschlaag on the Vienna-Graz corridor. Work started in 2013, completion planed in 2024.
  • Brenner Base Tunnel, 34 miles between Innsbruck Austria and Fortezza Italy on the Munich-Verona corridor. Preliminary works started; scheduled completion in 2026.
  • Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel, 35 miles between Saint Jean de Maurienne France and Susa Italy, replacing the current, shorter Frejus Tunnel on the Lyon-Turin corridor. Preliminary construction started; completion planned for 2020-2023.

Ed Perkins, editor

For more travel tips from Ed Perkins, see our companion site Ed on Travel

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