Gotthard derailment: SBB confirms damage too severe to resume services
Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), the main public transport provider in Switzerland, has confirmed that the Gotthard Tunnel will not be fully operational until 2024 at the earliest, following the derailment of a freight train last week. The tunnel is a key rail artery between northern and southern Europe, and despite the offer of help from the Italian authorities, the Swiss government confirmed that the damage caused by the derailment was too severe to restart services quickly.
Gotthard Tunnel heavily damaged by derailment
In a press release given to 20 Minuten, SBB said that the damage caused to the Gotthard Tunnel by the derailment had been more serious than expected. Repair work is expected to last several months as a result.
SBB deputy head of infrastructure Rudolf Büchi said that it is still unclear what caused the accident, although a broken wheel is still the most probable cause at the time of writing. He described a "field of rubble" where the train had derailed, with goods scatted across the cavern.
Having said in the past that such a thing would never happen, he admitted that he had "been taught a lesson."
Gotthard Tunnel rail services cut and slowed
Authorities noted that around eight kilometres of track and 20.000 concrete sleepers in the Gotthard have to be replaced thanks to the derailment. The track is also heavily damaged at the main points change, which will need to be repaired before any trains can pass.
As a result, SBB CEO Vincent Ducrot announced that while freight traffic will be able to use a single track in the tunnel from August 23, passenger services between Italy, Ticino, the Mittelland and Germany will not be able to use the Gotthard Tunnel until further notice. This is because they cannot guarantee safe evacuation routes for passengers until everything is fixed.
Instead, trains will have to run along the Gotthard panorama route, extending journey times by an hour. While north-south transit will be maintained on the panorama route, services are expected to be extremely crowded.
Fast Italy to Switzerland services unlikely to resume until 2024
What's more, trains will no longer be able to run from Basel and Zurich to Milan and back directly. Instead, travellers will have to change at Chiasso - meaning journeys will be up to two hours slower than normal. Trains from Genoa and Venice to Switzerland and back will remain direct but will also have to use the diversion.
SBB said they cannot predict when passenger traffic will resume in the tunnel, but estimated that the Gotthard will only be fully operational by the start of 2024 at the earliest. Passengers are encouraged to plan their journeys ahead of time and stay updated via the SBB website.
Italian government could send technicians to Switzerland to assist reopening
As the Swiss authorities reported the extent of the damage, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini told Swissinfo that he was “following the matter [of the Gotthard tunnel derailment] with the utmost attention”. The Italian infrastructure ministry has said that technicians from its own state railway company could come to Switzerland to work alongside the Swiss to help solve the problem as quickly as possible.
The delays in transport caused by the closure of the tunnel have caused disruption not only in Switzerland but also to freight routes in neighbouring countries, and costs are starting to mount up. In 2022, the Gotthard Tunnel catered to around 70 percent of rail freight moving through the Swiss mountains to Germany and Italy. A representative of the transport firm Schöni told Blick that the closure of the tunnel costs the company a few thousand francs a day.