World’s longest rail tunnel has a way to go

Some passengers are seeing red due to capacity and connection issues via the Gotthard Base Tunnel. Keystone

In its first two months of service, the Gotthard Base Tunnel has sped up travel for thousands of trains and attracted many more passengers, but not everything is on track. 

This content was published on February 6, 2017

The world’s longest rail tunnel has shaved 30 minutes off the journey along the north-south Gotthard corridor through the Swiss Alps, yet delays eat up some of that saved time. In a statement released on Monday, Swiss Federal RailwaysExternal link said that customer punctuality on the Gotthard line had improved from 79.6 to 86.8% since early December. Meanwhile, connection punctuality in Arth-Goldau has risen from 94.4 to 97.1%, reported the Federal Railways. 

“The situation regarding services from Italy remains challenging,” notes the Federal Railways statement. “The EuroCity trains from Milan are often delayed and depart from Chiasso with an average delay of eight minutes. However, the time lost can generally be made up using the journey time reserves factored in between Chiasso and Arth-Goldau.” According to the Federal Railways, 43 trains have been cancelled since the timetable change on December 11, 2016 – mostly due to vehicle breakdowns. 

In a statement of its own on Monday, Pro BahnExternal link, a public transport lobby group, said that it had received many passenger complaints about delays, disrupted connections in Arth-Goldau and Bellinzona, “and above all, insufficient space on the trains”. In addition, the service from central Switzerland heading south is worse than it used to be, finds Pro Bahn. 

“The trains coming from Zurich are fully occupied, so for a family of four, it’s impossible to find a free compartment,” points out Pro Bahn, adding that passengers going to Göschenen from German-speaking suburbs have to change trains up to three times – “with no connection guarantees”. 

The demand for InterCity and EuroCity services has increased by some 30% over last year, reports the Federal Railways. On average, about 8,800 people passed through the tunnel per day during the first 57 days that the new tunnel was in service. Exactly 2,816 passenger trains and 3,980 freight trains went through during this period. 

The Federal Railways acknowledges that it had capacity issues over the Christmas holiday period. “In a handful of cases, passengers had to be asked to wait for the next train or were diverted via the Gotthard panoramic route,” it said in its statement. Since the opening of the new tunnel, fewer than 500 people per day take the old mountain route between Göschenen and Airolo. 

The Federal Railways says it is working on solving the challenges posed by spikes in capacity. It predicts high volume along the Zurich-Milan EuroCity route over Easter, and advises customers to reserve seats on journeys to Ticino in southern Switzerland during that time.

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