AUSTRIA's Kufstein - Innsbruck - Brennero line is a core part of the Trans-European Corridor 10 and a key transalpine link between Germany and Italy. For many years the section between Munich and Verona has been given high priority by the European Union, (EU) and has featured in all previous priority project lists.
Between Wörgl and Innsbruck, TEN-T Corridor 10 utilises the Salzburg - Zell am See - Innsbruck - Feldkirch line, part of Austria's main east-west corridor, to traverse the Inn valley. This section is heavily used by both freight and passenger services, and with more than 300 trains per day vying for paths, this busy railway has almost reached capacity.
To eliminate this bottleneck it has been decided to build two additional tracks all the way from Wörgl to the northern end of the Brenner line near Innsbruck. The process began at the western extremity of the route with the construction of the freight-only 14.9km Innsbruck bypass between Baumkirchen and Gärberbach, which opened in May 1994.
The topography of the Inn valley between Wörgl and Baumkirchen meant building two new tracks alongside the existing line was not an option. The only alternative was to build the 41km line through a series of tunnels along the edge of the valley.
The railway is already triple track between Wörgl and Kundl, where the new line diverges and passes immediately into a 16.1km tunnel. The line emerges west of Jenbach at Stans, where there is a connection with the existing line, before entering another 10.9km tunnel. Beyond the eastern portal at Terfens, the line passes through a final 3.9km tunnel before reaching Baumkirchen station, where it rejoins the existing line from Kufstein to Innsbruck.
The new line is equipped with ETCS Level 2 equipment and the maximum line speed is 220km/h for passenger trains and 160km/h for freight. Operation began in the spring and the line will officially open in December.
The line will be used predominantly by freight trains, and all passenger services, with the exception of those ÖBB Railjet services that do not stop at Jenbach, will continue to use the existing line. The diversion of most freight traffic will allow the introduction of higher-frequency, regular-interval regional services.
In addition, plans are already in place to quadruple the line northeast of Kundl, and this will run in a tunnel from Kundl to Schaftenau, southwest of Kufstein. An agreement has also been reached on the cross-border section, which will continue the line north into Bavaria to rejoin the Kufstein - Munich line to Brannenburg. However, these sections will only be built following the completion of the Brenner base tunnel.
The Brenner line running south from Innsbruck to Brennero in Italy is a steeply-graded mountain railway with high levels of freight traffic. Over the years the quality of the track has deteriorated and upgrading became neccessary. It would have been possible to repair the line over a five-year period with temporary single line working, but this solution would have been costly and reduced capacity for long periods.
ÖBB therefore opted for a series of weekend closures from June onwards, followed by a six-week blockade from the beginning of August until mid-September. This will allow ÖBB to complete the rebuilding of the Brenner line by the time the new Kundl - Baumkirchen line opens.
During the periods of total closure freight trains were diverted through Switzerland via the Gotthard line or via Salzburg, Villach, and Tarvisio. Rolling Road and regional passenger services were suspended, while Munich - Verona Eurocity services were replaced by buses between Innsbruck and Brennero.
The lack of road access made reconstruction work extremely difficult, and most materials had to be delivered by rail. This necessitated total closure because one track was required for engineering trains while the other was being relaid.
While this work will make the line fit for purpose once more, it does not overcome the fundamental capacity issues currently faced by both the railway and the parallel Brenner motorway, which can only be fully addressed by new infrastructure.
The first studies for the Brenner base tunnel were carried out in 1989, and in 1994 the EU added the Brenner corridor to its list of priority transport projects. In 1999 a joint company for planning the base tunnel was founded by Austria and Italy, and after many years of planning, the base tunnel was finally approved in 2009.
The 55km-long tunnel will have two bores starting south of Innsbruck and emerging south of Fortezza in Italy. The severity of the gradients on the existing line means freight trains require up to three locomotives for the climb from Innsbruck to Brennero. There are agreements between Germany, Austria and Italy for building the tunnel and increasing capacity on the approach lines, and the tunnel itself is being built by a company owned jointly by Italy and Austria, which is registered as Galleria di Base del Brennero/Brenner Basistunnel.
The tunnel reaches its summit of 790m beneath the Brenner Pass, which reaches a height of 1371m. The maximum gradient is .67%, compared with 2.5% on the existing line. South of Innsbruck there will be an underground junction linking the line with the Innsbruck bypass. The whole tunnel will be operated in left hand running,
as is the case in Italy, and trains will switch from left to right-hand running either at Innsbruck station or on the link to the Innsbruck bypass. The line will be electrified at 25kV/50Hz, switching to the Austrian 15kV/16.7Hz system south of Innsbruck.
Initial tunnelling works are focused on an exploratory bore between the two running tunnels, which will act as a service tunnel with cross passages situated at intervals of 333m. The tunnel will have three emergency stations, which will be linked by road tunnels to the surface. At these stations there are crossovers to allow trains to switch between the northbound and southbound running tunnels. At the southern end there will be a junction with the existing line as well as a link to a future new line which would provide two additional tracks on the Fortezza - Bolzano section.
Naturally the base tunnel's gentler gradients will allow longer and heavier freight trains to cross the Brenner, significantly increasing capacity, while the elimination of piloting and banking will improve transit times by avoiding stops to attach and detach locomotives. Journey times for passenger services will be slashed, and the two hour Innsbruck - Bolzano trip will be halved when the tunnel opens.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be around €8bn. It is expected that the EU will contribute 27% of the total costs whilst Italy and Austria will share the remainder. Although several agreements have already been signed between the EU and the countries involved, financing remains an issue due to budgetary constraints. Austria has deferred some expenditure and intends to delay the opening of the base tunnel, although for the time being at least the official opening date remains 2025. However, delays to other tunnelling projects suggest the wait for the first train through the Brenner base tunnel might be a little longer than many expected.