The Gotthard Base Tunnel – the world’s longest railway tunnel – will open today. SBB will soon commence trial operations at the construction of the century, sending the first passenger and freight trains through the two single-track, 57-kilometre-long tunnels. Scheduled services will then start in December 2016. This summer will therefore mark the launch of a new era in transalpine transport.
“Turnkey” tunnel: handover to SBB
At the same time, the opening also marks the end of an era for the tunnel constructor AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd. (ATG), the consortium Transtec Gotthard and especially Alpiq. Following an intensive test and approval period, ATG handed over the completed tunnel to the federal government, or more precisely SBB, on 31 May 2016, signalling the completion of the construction project.
During certain phases between 2009 and 2016, this project has occupied more than 700 Transtec Gotthard workers simultaneously. These workers were responsible for installing reliable and safe railway technology, including planning and commissioning. General contractor Transtec Gotthard’s mandate comprised the construction of the track and installation of a 50-hertz power supply, 16.7-hertz traction power, telecommunication and control technology and safety systems. Transtec Gotthard was thus responsible for transforming the basic tunnel into a usable railway tunnel that is the best equipped in the Swiss railway tunnel network in terms of safety. Work on installing the railway systems required a wide range of temporary features such as construction site ventilation, cooling, power supply, lighting and communications, and these were installed and operated by Transtec Gotthard.
Leading role for Alpiq InTec in the railway technology consortium
Transtec Gotthard was thus responsible for a central part of the complex large-scale project. With a view to bringing together the necessary competencies in an optimised approach, the consortium consisted of the following four partners, each of whom is a leader in its respective field: Lead partner Alpiq InTec AG (represented by Alpiq Infra AG, the specialist in large-scale projects), Alcatel-Lucent Switzerland Ltd together with Thales Rail Signalling Solutions AG, Heitkamp Construction Swiss GmbH and Balfour Beatty Rail GmbH. Further support was provided by subcontractors including Alpiq Burkhalter Technik AG and Kummler+Matter Ltd.
The general contractor model was the ideal approach for the Gotthard railway technology mandate, which was completed by Transtec Gotthard in a reliable and precise manner, with the consortium meeting the deadlines contained in the contract, some by a considerable margin. Thanks to accurate and far-sighted planning, the Transtec Gotthard engineers and the tunnel constructor ATG realised at an early stage of the project that they would succeed in cutting the construction time by an entire year. Not only was the adherence to deadlines impressive, but the costs involved in the railway technology project were also spot on.
Over 1000 technical interfaces and 114 kilometres of handrails
This is all the more remarkable in view of the extraordinary complexity and dimensions of the project – in terms of logistics, for example: the railway technology was installed exclusively via the north and south portals. Due to lack of space in the tunnel, all material was carried in by rail from the large installation areas in Erstfeld and Biasca. The technical complexity in general was another challenge during the installation process, with over 1000 interfaces to be aligned in order to ensure smooth installation and adherence to the schedule.
The scale of the railway technology project can be highlighted by a selection of impressive facts and figures: The Transtec Gotthard partners pulled in 3200 kilometres of copper cables and 2600 kilometres of fibre-optic cables, set up and connected 2200 electrical cabinets, installed 250 transformer stations and assembled 10,000 lights and 114 kilometres of handrails. On top of this came 114 kilometres of catenary wires in the tunnel, and 40 kilometres outside. The special type of catenary wire system developed for the Gotthard Base Tunnel – which was required to provide power in an optimal manner both to the locomotives of heavy freight trains and passenger trains travelling at up to 250 kilometres per hour – called for 2860 support structures and 800 kilometres of copper wires, as well as 18,000 anchors to reinforce the support structures.
Railway technology functioning – trial operations to start
As has been seen in recent months since work on the installation of the railway technology was completed on 30 September 2015, these alignments and the approval of all components and installations went well: the commissioning phase and test operations from October 2015 to May 2016 found the railway technology to be working and safety requirements to have been met.
SBB, the future operator of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, will be responsible for the final test operations that will now follow from June 2016. Once it has been demonstrated that operations with passenger and freight trains, personnel deployment and incident management are all running smoothly, the Federal Office of Transport will issue an operating licence for scheduled services as of December 2016.
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