Saturday, 4 June 2016

Gotthard Base Opens Weirdly

But First, Some Background
Pedantically and theologically it is the Saint Gotthard tunnel.

On 5 May 1132 the first liturgical festivity in honour of Gotthard was celebrated. Miracles were attributed to his relics. Veneration of the saint spread to Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe. Gotthard was invoked against fever, dropsy, childhood sicknesses, hailstones, the pain of childbirth, and gout.

Furthermore, Niederaltaich Abbey made its famous abbot the patron saint of the abbey's well-known grammar school, the St-Gotthard-Gymnasium.

Gotthard also became the patron saint of traveling merchants, and thus many churches and chapels were dedicated to him in the Alps.
The Gotthard Tunnel (German: Gotthardtunnel, Italian: Galleria del San Gottardo) is a 15.003-kilometre-long (9.322 mi) railway tunnel and forms the summit of the Gotthard Railway in Switzerland. It connects Göschenen with Airolo and was the first tunnel through the Gotthard massif. It is built as one double-track, standard gauge tunnel and opened in 1882..
But getting UP to Göschenen (Switzerland) in the north and getting DOWN from Airolo (Italy) involves some stupendously spectacular engineering.
fbb remembers, as a spotty oik, reading with wide eyed wonder passages from C J Allen's "Amazing Railways of Switzerlamd". Trains use expensive spirally engineered lines to gain and lose height.
But all that spiralling and climbing is very, very slow and the Swiss Railway people wanted to increase the volume of freight and reduce the pressure on already over-clogged road tunnels.
After a referendum to decided whether to spend the money, Switzerland decided to solve the problem by building a 35 mile rail tunnel right through the bese of the Gotthard massif.

After 64 percent of Swiss voters accepted the AlpTransit project in a 1992 referendum, tunnel construction began in 1996. Drilling operations in the eastern tunnel were completed on 15 October 2010 in a breakthrough ceremony broadcast live on Swiss TV, and in the western tunnel on 23 March 2011. AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd. planned to hand over the tunnel to Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) in operating condition in December 2016.

In fact this hand-over was brought forward to 1st June, although full services over the line will not start until the December 2016 timetable change.

Pictures of the inside of railway tunnels are never very stimulating, but this one shows what is (oddly) called a multifunction station.
At two points crosssover sections are installed (like in the Channel Tunnel) to allow for single line working. Also at the locations is pedestrian access to the outside world.
But no station in the normal sense of the word. Initial plans included a real stop at Faldo, but these were dropped as detailed evaluation evolved.
The pink bits at then north portal were also left out of the final plan, but may be built at a later stage.

But what about that opening ceremony? Frankie, Angie and Johnnie were all there ...
... plus a scattering of holy water.
Trains entered the tunnel from both ends at the same time ...
... carrying VIPs and competition winners.
Sadly, fbb's decal-edges gold printed invitation must have got lost in the post! Then there was the olympics-style bizarre opening ceremony itself.
fbb quite likes the weird; but it is hard to explain what a winged big-headed cherub and a load of folk dancing in their underwear have to do with a 35 mile long tunnel. Vive la différence Suisse!!

The dancing floor-mops were, erm, "different"(?)

But the engineering of the tunnel is outstanding. Even the press in Germany, a nation oft-famed for its efficiency, was effusive in its praise for the achievement.

“Switzerland leaves Germany looking old,” was the headline in Die Welt in Germany. By finishing the Gotthard Tunnel on time, “a small country has shown how to achieve something great”, alluding to the never-ending construction of Berlin’s new airport.

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was also self-critical. “Little Switzerland has once again put the rest of Europe to shame with its professionalism.” The country had proved “there is no law of nature according to which costs for large construction projects must multiply”. 

Sigh. This means another entry on the ever expanding fbb list of things to do before the grim reaper does his inevitable stuff.

Tomorrow, we are back in fbb's back yard, metaphorically and literally.

 Next "oddments" blog: Sunday 5th June 


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