The Gotthard Base Tunnel mega-project in Switzerland has commenced testing high-speed trains on its two 57km (35.4 miles) single-track tunnels. The line is scheduled to become operational at the end of 2016, and has seen over 500 successful tests since October 1st with the first trip at the maximum speed of 275km taking place on 8th November. Work began in 1996 on the Gotthard Base Tunnel which aims to increase total transport capacity across the Alps, especially for freight, and to take the loads delivered by heavy lorries from the narrow roads snaking through the mountains to the tracks. The total cost of the project, which had to be approved by a referendum of the Swiss people in 1992, is 9.8 billion Swiss francs, or 10.3 billion US dollars.
Around 5,000 tests are planned before May 31st 2016 and are being performed with the Swiss Federal Railways (SFR) with a special Type ICE-S train on hire from Deutsche Bahn (DB). A total of 160 people are involved with the testing from drivers through to test-run supervisors, traffic managers and safety heads. The GSM-R system is being tested as well and the first test runs with the new train control system, ETCS Level 2, have also taken place.
Renzo Simoni, CEO of AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd. said of the first round of successful testing: "We must prove the functionality and fulfilment of the safety requirements in the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Only when this has been done, can we hand over to the Swiss government and Swiss Federal Railways, at the opening festivities on June 1, 2016, a tunnel that is ready for operation. From June 2016, under the leadership of SFR, the trials phase will take place, before the tunnel goes into operation with scheduled trains in December 2016.”
The Gotthard Tunnel axis of the New Rail Link (NRLA) through the Alps is part of Switzerland's largest-ever construction project. The project consists of two tunnels connecting the Swiss towns of Erstfeld with Bodio and includes the Lötschberg Base Tunnel between the cantons of Bern and Valais and the under construction Ceneri Base Tunnel (scheduled to open 2020) to the south. The Gotthard Base Tunnel is scheduled to become operational at the end of 2016, the Ceneri Base Tunnel at the end of 2020.
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