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Gotthard Base Tunnel

1. Introduction

On 1 June 2016 in Switzerland, the longest railway base tunnel in the world has been opened
after 14 years of tunnel excavation and drilling, and overall 17 years since the official start for
the first blasting in February 1999. The tunnel, which consists of two single tracks with a 40 m
separation apart, connects between the Erstfeld from the canton of Uri to Bodio from the
canton of Ticino which runs down through the mountain of Alps with a route length of 57 km
and adding to a total of approx. 152 km of the Swiss complete tunnel system which consists of a
series of interconnected tunnels, shafts and passages. Its also considered the deepest railway
tunnel in the world with a depth of 2,300 m. (Renzo Simoni, 2016, p. 58).

2. Overview of the Project:-

The projects whole life cycle was full of risks. So in order to be controlled, Alp Transit Gotthard
AG had to use a long-term, project focused quality management tool that can go through all the
stages of this life cycle from defining to closing, where these stages will be illustrated below.

1- Defining stage: The Gotthard Base Tunnel will be an another addition to the
comprehensive railway network in Europe, where its requirements and standards were
illustrated by the Swiss Railway guidelines and the European Committee respectively.
Moreover, the Swiss Federal Railways stated the standard operational requirements and
the technical parameters.
While the specifications in detail were stated by the AlpTransit Gotthard including official
papers that specify railway positioning, civil operations, maintenance, surveys, etc.

2- Planning stage: The Gotthard Base Tunnel project were supervised by 15 employees from
the Federal Transport Office, where they were able to set up the planning benchmarks,
do teamwork with the future operators, assess the risks that could happen and do a
quality plan for each one of these risks.
The Swiss government were also monitoring the project strategically, providing the
necessary funds (partially based from the taxes of Swiss citizens), making the best use of
the reserves available.

3- Executing stage: the tunnel construction were done by different contractors under the
supervision of AlpTransit Gotthard, who already did the tunnels design layout with an
assistance from private consultants.

4- Closing stage: Once the tunnel had finished, it was delivered to the Swiss Federal Railways
for post-project review and final tunnel inspection. Then finally, the ceremony for the
official opening of the tunnel was on 1st June 2016 where the full commercial service
start in December 2016. (Georgeta Geambasu, 2011, p 65-68)

3. Socio-Technical Identification:-
The Technical and Sociocultural Dimensions
of the Gotthard Base Tunnel include:-
I. Technical:

1- Baseline Budgets: The projects total cost reached 12.2 billion Swiss Francs, an equivalent
of $12.3 billion and almost the same costs as the London 2012 Olympic Games though
the initial costs of the project was 8.85 billion Swiss Francs ($9.1 billion) due to
encountering difficulties regarding the safety excavation of the tunnel where suitable
ground conditions and good quality rock layers must be considered and searched by
digging deeper. (Heinz Ehrbar, 2008, p. 10)

2- Resource Allocation: A computerized tool called Decision Aids for Tunneling (DAT) was
used to figure out how much costs and time are needed to excavate the tunnel, what
kind and the amount of resources necessary to be used such as the overall amount of
muck needed for concrete production, etc. Also, DAT was very important tool to lookup
different scenarios or uncertainties in excavating tunnel management. (Herbert Einstein,
2004, p. 199-207)

3- Schedules: The project is carried out through a timeline provided below:-

a. May 2 1992: Switzerland and the European Community agree to sign a contract for the
amount of freight capacity allowed for transit
b. November 29 1998: An approval of Swiss voters by 63.5% to the government to build
and provide a new public transport infrastructure
c. June 28 1998: The official announcement to commence the construction of Gotthard
Base Tunnel from the canton of Uri
d. June 1 2016: A ceremony has been held for the official opening of Gotthard Base Tunnel
as the AlpTransit Gotthard AG hands over to the Swiss Federal Railways
e. December 11 2016: The official start for the commercial service of the Gotthard Base
(Mountain milestones, 2016, p. 68-69)

II. Sociocultural:

1- Politics: The tunnel project is done under the supervision of AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd, a
wholly owned subsidiary of Swiss Federal Railways (SFR) of the Swiss government.

2- Customer expectations: The trip duration for passenger trains from Zrich from north to
Lugano from south Switzerland will be around only 45 mins shorter, then to Milan, Italy
for an overall duration of 3 hours. Moreover, the tunnel will shift the freight industry
from using trucks to railway throughout especially Western Europe, thus minimizing the
deadly accidents caused by heavy trucks accompanied by better environmental
sustainability. (Richard Malins, 2010, p. 79-81)(Fglistaler, 2016, p. 56)

3- Problem-solving: Encountering difficulties regarding the safety excavation of the tunnel

where suitable ground conditions and good quality rock layers must be considered and
searched by carefully digging deeper from hard granite to crumbled, sedimentary rock.
(Heinz Ehrbar, 2008, p. 10)

4. Analysis of Project Success:-

Therere factors from the Socio-Technical dimension that led to success of the Gotthard Base
Tunnel Construction. Firstly, to control the risks related in problem-solving factor, risk
management was the true key player based on how effective the system tools are used to
excavate the tunnel and to know the people involved to counter the difficulties such as
engineers advisers, suppliers who provide the essential excavation tools and resources, and
Secondly, project wont be a success without the involvement of political democracy where the
Swiss citizens had the power to vote regarding whether to agree to start the Gotthard Base
Tunnel project or not back in 1998. So Swiss people are always involved and have attitude
openness in decisions related to the government and the project itself.
Thirdly, though despite the increasing costs of the baseline budgets, its impact on the project
was minimized by the Swiss people who were contributing to this project by paying certain
taxes to provide an extra financial source throughout the previous years, thus partially covering
the increasing baseline budgets.
Lastly, customer expectations is the summary for the projects success; time-traveling between
Zrich to Milan will be reduced averagely by 2 hours, approx. 50 passenger trains and 200 freight trains

will run down the tunnel per day, and average speed for each of the passenger trains, high-
speed (VIP) passenger trains, and cargo freight trains are 200 km/h, 250 km/h and 130 km/h
respectively. (Georgeta Geambasu, 2011, p 65-67)

5. Conclusion:-

After 17 years of construction, deep drilling and careful excavation, the longest and deepest
railway tunnel has been successfully completed under the Alps that will not just connect the
rest of Europe, but itll revolutionize the means of passenger and freight transport and thus
Switzerland will act as the heart of Europe.
Thanks to the Rolling Factory, the main 410 meter-boring machine, large amount of excavated
rock had been returned to the mountains interior in the form of concrete, while the remaining
material was used for future purposes such as landscaping of the site, filling for dams, etc.
Finally, people across Western Europe will be able to travel in shorter times such as the journey
between Zurich and Lugano will be around 45 minutes shorter (2h 45min to approx. 2h), Zurich
to Milan will take an hour shorter (approx. 4h to 3h), etc.


Ehrbar, H. (2008). Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland. Experiences with different Tunnelling
Methods. In Proc. 2 Congresso Brasileiro de Tneis e Estruturas Subterrneas, Sao Paulo.

Einstein, H. (2004). Decision aids for tunneling: Update. Transportation Research Record:
Journal of the Transportation Research Board, (1892), 199-207.

FGLISTALER, P. (2016). World's longest rail tunnel forges closer European links. Railway Gazette
International, 172(5), 56-57

Geambasu, G. (2011). Expect the Unexpected.

Malins, Richard (December 2010). "Crossing the Alps".Modern Railways (London). pp. 7981

Moergeli, A. (2004, April). Risk Management in TunnelingOccupational Safety+ Health Plans for
Drill & Blast and Tunnel Boring Machines. In North American Tunneling 2004: Proceedings of the
North American Tunneling Conference 2004, 17-22 April 2004, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (p. 153).
CRC Press.

Mountain milestones. (2016). Railway Gazette International, 172(5), 68-69.

SIMONI, R. (2016). A masterpiece of engineering. Railway Gazette International, 172(5), 58-62

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