A new Gotthard: Third-longest rail tunnel in Switzerland set to be approved
According to 20 minuten, communities in the mountains have overwhelmingly backed a plan to build a new 23-kilometre rail tunnel connecting Canton Bern and Valais. Supporters say the project will bring much-needed tourism to local Swiss ski resorts and that construction could begin as early as 2027.
23-kilometre rail tunnel planned between Bern and Valais
The 23-kilometre rail tunnel would run underneath the Grimsel Pass between Oberwald, Canton Valais, and Innertkirchen in Canton Bern. The tunnel would slash journey times between Bern, Lucerne and resorts in the Rhône river valley, and provide more capacity on routes from the mountains to other Swiss cities.
When completed, it would be the 16th-longest railway tunnel in the world and the third-longest rail tunnel in Switzerland after the Gotthard Base Tunnel (57,1 kilometres) and the Lötschberg Base Tunnel (34,57 kilometres).
The idea of a tunnel between the two valleys has a long history, first being proposed by the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedemont in 1850 as a fast way to get from Italy to central Switzerland. In 1968, the government commissioned a report into local public transport and concluded that the 23-kilometre tunnel should be built, but never received any funding.
Grimsel rail tunnel has the support of locals and local Swiss politicians
However, according to 20 minuten, this may be about to change thanks to the Grimsel Tunnel Interest group. The group explained that the government has already committed to replacing overhead power lines between Oberwald and Innterkirchen with a tunnel, which could be easily converted into a single-track rail line. The Tages-Anzeiger noted that the granite terrain underneath the Grimsel Pass is perfect for a long-distance rail tunnel.
According to the Mayor of Obergommer, Patric Zimmerman, construction on the line could start as early as 2027. He said that not only would the project bring much-needed tourism to the region, but the plan would also remove 121 pylons from the Grimsel nature reserve, and save 1.000 tons of CO2 a year as people switch from driving to taking the train.
State Councillor Beat Rieder told 20 minuten that the project should cost around 600 million francs in total. The councillor confirmed that he was submitting a parliamentary initiative to help kickstart the project, which will be signed by all Swiss political parties. He expected the Federal Council in Bern to make their final decision on the project as early as 2023.
Swiss department of transport concerned about the cost
While the project remains popular in Bern and Valais, different departments of the Swiss federal government have disagreed on the plan. According to 20 minuten, while the Federal Office of Energy supports the idea, the Federal Office of Transport argued that the cost-benefit ratio was not good enough to finance the scheme. In response, Zimmermann retorted that for the same price of the railway, you could only build around 2,5 kilometres of Swiss motorway.