SWISS Federal Railways (SBB) has announced that work to repair the damaged western bore of the 57.1km Gotthard Base Tunnel will take until September 2024 to complete and restore the world’s longest rail tunnel to full capacity.

SBB says that the freight train derailment on August 10, caused by a cracked wheel, resulted in much more damage than was first expected. This will require 7km of concrete slab track to be entirely replaced at a cost of between SFr 100m ($US 110.65m) and SFr 130m, which SBB says will be covered by its insurance.

Track repairs will involve replacing the concrete track bed, over 20,000 twin-block sleepers and the running rails, work which SBB says is currently being delivered at rate of 300m of new track per week.

The derailed freight train also damaged the safety door in one of the diagonal tunnels connecting the two bores of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, two high-speed turnouts at the Faido multifunctional site, and other safety and operating equipment.

Slab track is being entirely replaced on a 7km section of the tunnel. Photo Credit: SBB

SBB is working to complete the repairs as soon as possible. Up to 80 staff from the railway and its contractors are currently on site every day, working in what SBB says are particularly difficult climatic conditions that are also complicating the logistics of moving equipment and materials to the work site.

Once the repairs are completed, a major commissioning programme will then take place, including trials at full line speed.

In order to allocate train paths while the western bore is under repair, SBB says that it has undertaken an in-depth assessment taking into account the needs of both passenger and freight traffic, working closely with the freight sector, passenger operators and the independent Swiss Train Path Allocation Agency (TVS).

This process has taken into account the needs of cross-border transit freight traffic using the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the terminals served by these trains.

Specialist plant has been moved to the tunnel. Photo Credit: SBB

SBB is now working to increase capacity for freight trains during the week and for passenger services at the weekends with effect from the timetable change on December 10.

As at present, all paths through the undamaged eastern bore will be made available to freight operators from Monday to Thursday, and it is hoped that both freight and passenger trains will be able operate through the Gotthard Base Tunnel from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

SBB says that the detailed operating concept is still under development and will require approval from Switzerland’s rail safety regulator, the Federal Office of Transport (FOT).

Timetable information will be made available online from the end of November, and will apply from December 10 until just before Easter next year.