THE much-needed Cornavin-Eaux-Vives-Annemasse (Ceva) project to improve mobility in Geneva and provide a cross-border connection to France was first conceived as long ago as 1850. However, numerous false starts and political disagreements meant the project was ditched and not revived until the 1990s.

Further disputes followed, the final one from local residents angry at the impact of construction on homes in the area. After the Federal Office of Transport approved plans in May 2008 for the new 16km line, residents took their objections to court. The case eventually made it all the way to the Swiss Federal Administrative Court which rejected a last ditch plea meaning that 161 years after Ceva was initially conceived, construction crews were free to finally start work.

Anyone seeing the enormous amount of building work going on at Carouge-Bachet or Eaux-Vives will immediately appreciate the scale and complexity of the project, which is due to be finished in 2017.

The new 16km line, 14km of which is on Swiss soil and 2km in France, will enable passengers to cross Geneva in 20 minutes from the main station at Cornavin to Annemasse via Lancy-Pont Rouge, Carouge-Bachet, Champel-Hospital, Eaux-Vives and Chêne-Bourg. It will also form the core element of a Swiss-French railway network extending over 230km with 40 stations, 20 in Switzerland and 20 in France.

CEVA - Lancy-Pont-RougeCeva is a joint venture between Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) and the Geneva canton. The overall cost of the project of the Swiss section is SFr 1.5bn ($US 1.61bn) of which 56% is from the Swiss government and 44% from the canton of Geneva. The 2km French section is estimated to cost e234m, which includes modifications to the stations at Annemasse and Thonon-Evian.

Mr Antoine Da Trindade, who has been director of the Ceva project for the last seven years, says the new line is being built as a turnkey project, with Ceva responsible for issuing tenders. "We have finished all the preliminary work with only a few exceptions like contracting the construction of the station at Lancy-Pont Rouge," he says.

The project involves rebuilding and track doubling the existing single-track line between Cornavin and Lancy-Pont Rouge and from Eaux-Vives to Annemasse, with most of the latter section underground. At the same time the missing link between the two systems is being constructed between Lancy-Pont Rouge and Eaux-Vives, which was previously the terminus of the French line from Annemasse.

The bridge on the existing line between Cornavin and Lancy-Pont Rouge, the Viaduc de la Jonction, where the river Arve joins the Rhone, will be refurbished with work due to start next year. "We'll leave the existing foundations and bridge piers as they are, but rebuild the superstructure with twin tracks and add a wider footpath for pedestrians and a cycle track," Da Trindade says.

Huge project

The next section to the south, dubbed Praille Acacias Vernets (PAV), is a huge industrial area with a large railfreight yard and is earmarked for development into residential and office premises. "This is a huge project," smiles Da Trindade. "Carouge-Bachet is also part of PAV and the southern entry for a lot of cars: the idea is to encourage people to use the park-and-ride facilities because there is a good tram service as well. Geneva Public Transport's (TPG) main office is here as is a huge maintenance depot for trams. So it's a big interface."

In the southern area of PAV is La Chapelle-Les Sciers, which is also being redeveloped as a new residential area. "That's the main idea behind this project," Da Trindade says. "Geneva has to grow and develop, but land is scarce, so the only way to do it is to think in wider terms about greater Geneva. Now people have started to look at the region as a whole from Nyon to Annécy, an area roughly 60km in diameter. The canton of Geneva has a population of about 350,000, greater Geneva about 1 million. By 2030 this is projected to grow to about 1.2 million. However, rather than building in the countryside, Geneva is redeveloping existing areas, not only at Carouge-Bachet but also at Trois-Chênes and Eaux-Vives. And that is another good reason for putting stations and track underground."

The new line section includes two new bridges, one over the Arve and a small one at Pont sur la Seymaz. In the Val d'Arve section, a temporary pontoon bridge for use by construction vehicles was erected over the river in February, while the new railway bridge will provide access via another tunnel to new stations at Carouge-Bachet and Champel-Hôpital, the university hospital which has 10,000 staff and is also served by nearby clinics. "The only way to get there at the moment is by car or trolleybus, so it definitely needs more capacity," Da Trindade says. "It will also have the deepest station in the entire project at 25m."

Virtually the entire Eaux-Vives and Annemasse section will run in tunnel. The existing station at Eaux-Vives is now closed and will be rebuilt underground, while Chêne-Bourg station has been reopened to serve existing rail passengers who are being redirected to a spur of the light rail line between the city centre and Moillesulaz and a replacement bus service between Annemasse and Eaux-Vives. The single-track line has already been torn up, and work has started on building a double-track cut-and-cover tunnel. Side supporting walls are being built and capped with a concrete roof, allowing the tunnel to be dug out to its full depth underneath. At ground level, the aim is to create a promenade for pedestrians and a cycle track, which Da Trindade describes as a "green path."

"With this technique - making the concrete walls, installing the roof and digging the tunnel underneath - the land can be given back to its previous users in one year. Otherwise it would take 18 months," he says.

Work on the section between the Trois-Chênes quarter and the border with France began at the end of March and Da Trindade says French Rail Network (RFF) is expected to start work on its 2km section by the end of next year.

One of the biggest challenges facing the project is the requirement to divide construction work into small lots, especially where main arterial roads are involved, which have to be partially closed. "There are eight phases of construction for the Carouge-Bachet section for example - this is a very busy crossing point and it's difficult to divert roads and tramways," Da Trindade says.

Asked why the new line takes such a huge loop through the suburbs of Geneva, Da Trindade explains the task of building a more direct line from Cornavin to Annemasse would be formidable, as both line and stations would have to be dug deep under the end of the lake, while building a bridge would spoil the famous view. The chosen alignment retains the 100-year-old design and will serve approximately 120,000 people living within 500m of all five stations, and 120,000 jobs in the same area.

On completion, all five stations will have links to existing tram, bus and trolleybus lines, as TPG has redesigned its network to fit in with Ceva as part of its mobility concept. The plan is to run six trains an hour with a journey time of 20 minutes between Cornavin and Annemasse.

However, while work has remained on schedule for completion in 2017, the project might yet face some problems. Da Trindade says mixed geological conditions between the Arve and Eaux-Vives means that engineers will only be certain of how it will stand up to construction once tunnelling gets underway.

He is though adamant that the right precautions are being taken, and says that up to this point the project to improve Geneva's international connections is on time. "We've done plenty of preliminary work with soundings and samples, but the ground is unique," he says. "We've put sensors in this area to see if there's any movement. And that's also why we're using traditional tunnelling methods."

Geneva trams enjoy renaissance

GENEVA's tram system has endured a chequered history. It opened in 1862 and by 1920 it was the largest tram network in Europe. However, by 1960, like other systems in Europe, it had entered a period of decline and had dwindled to just one line.

During the 1990s support for trams in the city was revived and now 50 years on from its lowest ebb the network is currently enjoying a renaissance as the key element in the comprehensive new transport system run by Geneva Public Transport.

GenevaTram-2While the network is being expanded, the number of lines has been consolidated to four from seven in an effort to simplify and speed up operations. As a result lines 12 and 15 both cover a single route, as does Line 14 for half of its route, sharing the other half with Line 18. The downside of this arrangement is that while all services go through the city centre, some central destinations like Cornavin railway station cannot be reached directly from all parts of the network. However, it does provide a fast, frequent service with interchanges at the central locations of Bel-Air, Plainpalais and Cornavin.

Line 14 currently terminates at the Bernex park-and-ride facility, which opened at the end of 2011. Plans to build an extension to Bernex-Vailly have been repeatedly delayed due to funding issues from the canton and local opposition. Originally scheduled for completion at the end of 2012 with commissioning a year later, it was postponed to the end of 2014 with construction due to start in January this year, but has now been delayed indefinitely.

At the other end of the line, the terminus of Line 14 was changed from Cern to Meyrin-Gravière in December 2012 with Cern now served from Cornavin by Line 18. Plans to extend the tram line over the border to Saint-Genis-Pouilly in France have been approved by the Swiss authorities and are now being discussed by the French. If successful, the service could begin in 2016.

This is not the only cross-border project in the pipeline. Proposals have been put forward to extend Line 15 at both ends, from its northern terminus at Place des Nations to Le Grand-Saconnex, which lies beyond Geneva airport, with further extensions to Ferney-Voltaire in France possible.

At the southern end a proposal exists to extend the service in 2018 to the French border town of St-Julien-en-Genevois. A bilateral cooperation agreement for the project was signed at the end of last year and this extension would create a very useful link to the important industrial area of Lancy-Pont Rouge.

There is also a plan to extend Line 12 from Moillesulaz on the French border towards Annemasse. The other terminus of Line 12 is at Palettes, where Line 15 also terminates, so there may well be scope for yet more changes in the network as other projects are realised.