NRLA’s constituent parts


The NRLA consists of three base tunnels and their access routes. These run through the Alps at the level of the Swiss Plateau and replace the existing mountain routes, with their considerable differences in height, as the main transport axes:

Lötschberg Base Tunnel

The Lötschberg Base Tunnel is 34km long and has been in operation since 2007. It stretches from the Bernese Oberland to the Valais. From there the route continues to Northern Italy via the Simplon tunnel. Construction took eight years and the costs ran to around CHF 5.3 billion (current costs including interest and VAT). The Lötschberg Base Tunnel consists of two separate tubes, apart from one section of the Western tube of around 6km. To save money, only one third of the tunnel was initially developed with dual tracks. The remainder of the second tube serves as a rescue tunnel. In order to fully develop the second tunnel, further investment of around CHF 1–2 billion will be required. The Lötschberg Base Tunnel has shortened journey times between major destinations in German-speaking Switzerland and the Valais and Northern Italy by up to one hour. Passenger trains travel every hour (and every half hour at peak times) through the Lötschberg Base Tunnel. It is also very important for freight traffic: the Lötschberg Base Tunnel can handle up to 110 freight trains every day.

Gotthard Base Tunnel

At 57km, the Gotthard Base Tunnel has overtaken the Seikan tunnel in Japan (53.8km) as the world’s longest rail tunnel. With 2,300m of rock above it, it is also the world’s deepest tunnel beneath mountains. The Gotthard Base Tunnel consists of two fully developed, separate tubes, and shortens the existing mountain route between the Cantons of Uri and Ticino by around 30km. The Gotthard Base Tunnel has been in regular use since December 2016. Up to 260 freight trains can travel through the Gotthard Base Tunnel every day. A half-hourly regular timetable will be introduced for passengers. The cost of the Gotthard Base Tunnel is running at CHF 12.2 billion (current costs including interest and VAT). The immense significance of the Gotthard Base Tunnel was demonstrated on the occasion of its grand opening on 1 June 2016, at which the heads of state and government leaders from all neighbouring countries, the EU transport commissioner and the entire Swiss Federal Council were represented.

Ceneri Base Tunnel

The 15.4km Ceneri Base Tunnel in Canton Ticino completes the Gotthard axis. It costs CHF 3.6 billion (current costs including interest and VAT) and enter service in 2020. The Ceneri Base Tunnel consists likewise of two fully developed separate tunnels. The Gotthard and Ceneri Base Tunnels will reduce journey time from Zurich to Lugano by about 45 minutes (taking 1 hr 53 instead of 2 hrs 38). The journey to Milan will be an hour shorter, thanks to the NRLA (3 hrs instead of 4 hrs). The Ceneri Base Tunnel will also make the regional rail network of Ticino much more attractive by massively reducing journey times and improving connectivity. It will take only 30 minutes to travel from Lugano to Locarno, instead of the current 55 minutes.

Upgrading access routes

So that access routes to the base tunnels can likewise match the increasing demand, Switzerland is investing a further CHF 1.7 billion (current costs including interest and VAT), essentially on new signalling that will allow trains to run closer together.

Switzerland has agreed on international treaties with Germany (1996) and Italy (1999) for upgrades to access routes in neighbouring countries. It was decided that the German Rhine valley route and the various Italian access routes should be upgraded for the NRLA “to keep pace with demand.” This work is in progress and is reviewed regularly by bilateral committees.

In addition, a number of obstacles are being overcome at home and in Northern Italy. Whilst the base tunnels and the Lötschberg axis are already designed for loading semitrailers with a 4m corner height, this was not yet possible on the access routes for the Gotthard axis. In 2014 the government therefore commissioned the modification of various tunnels, platform roofs and overhead lines. This will facilitate through traffic on the Swiss North-South axis by 2020 of containers and semitrailers with a 4m corner height. This is important, as combined transport with a 4m corner height is a rapidly growing segment. Switzerland is also financing corresponding profile modifications on the Italian Luino line so that important 4m transport loading terminals can be completed on time.