SWISS Federal Railways (SBB) has announced that the award of the contract to track double the final single-track section of the Bienne - Neuchâtel foot of the Jura main line, which includes the 2.1km Ligerz tunnel, has been delayed by almost two years, delaying the overall project by three years.

The contract signing was delayed because unsuccessful bidders filed a complaint. The Federal Administrative Court dismissed a final appeal in June 2023 and SBB was able to resume planning the project.

SBB received the final building permit from the Federal Office of Transport (BAV) in August 2021. This included additional requirements for better environmental protection. However, to preserve fish farming in a lake and the spawning periods of the fish, construction work can only take place at certain times, which SBB says will delay the overall planning process by around a year.

The new double-track section between Ligerz and Twann including the new tunnel was originally planned open at the end of 2026. “This means that the end of the construction work will be delayed by a total of three years,” SBB says. “The commissioning of the new tunnel will be rescheduled for the timetable change at the end of 2029.”

The project is budgeted at around SFr 431m ($US 473m). SBB says the cost consequences of the project delay are currently being analysed.

SBB says it is doing everything it can to ensure that the project is implemented according to the new schedule. “Excavation work for the new tunnel will start shortly,” SBB reveals. “SBB is currently working with the construction company on the detailed re-planning of the construction work.”

Nevertheless, SBB says a new peak-hour service between Biel, Neuchâtel and Yverdon-les-Bains will be implemented by a timetable change in December 2024, regardless of the delay.

Some construction work that began in 2020 has already been completed. This includes catenary renewal between La Neuveville and Poudeille. Realignment of the curves at Poudeille and Schafis, which started in 2021, as well as the preparatory excavation work in the west portal zone of Ligerz tunnel, have also been completed.

SBB is currently upgrading Twann station to comply with the requirements of the Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (BehiG). The island platform will be raised to ensure step-free access to trains, and ramps will be installed to improve access to the platform. Commissioning is planned for May 5 2024.

Completion of the track doubling project will eliminate a bottleneck on the line, thereby increasing capacity improving timetable stability.

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