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Monday Train Blogging: Tunnels

by DoDo Wed Dec 14th, 2005 at 08:10:44 AM EST

Back from the frontpage – a tunnel gnome

An Austrian freight train almost reached the western (St. Michael) end of the 5,462 m long Galgenberg Tunnel, where the new (1998) cut-off and the old line unite (photo I made on 17 September 2004)

Once, railway tunnels were mythical places: places where a mountain alive with a malignant soul buried construction workers, where people were killed in murder mysteries, where other people disappeared without a trace – or where kisses could be stolen... Tunnels built lately at a frenzied rate are much less romantic or frightening, in fact the average traveller might long for the sights denied by the subway-isation of some lines.

Still, I hope I can elicit some interest – by telling about three trends connected to rail tunnels. I annex the complete list of 20+km tunnels finished or at some stage of execution (which will likely be the opened-tunnels list before 2020).



Lots of long tunnels

The first tunnel longer than 10 km, Fréjus on the Franco-Italian border, opened 1871. 35 years later, the Simplon tunnel pushed the record to just under 20 km – but kept it for 76 years, when a Japanese tunnel only some 2 km longer took over.

But after twice six years, two 50+km tunnels led the list. after a further 25 years, there'll be five super-long 50+km tunnels (all three new across the Alps, one of them relieving the old Fréjus tunnel), and then a continuum from 35 km down, with Simplon relegated to only about 20th place! So what enabled this? Three factors:

  • Electric traction: now the standard on European and East Asian mainlines, it eliminates the problem of ventilating out noxious gases.
  • No space: the demand side is that cities want building space & no traffic barriers, inhabitants want no noise, and there is no place for further lines in mountains.
  • Mechanisation: While tunnel boring is still dangerous business, it is now done with highly efficient vehicle-mounted mechanized drillers or tunnel boring machines (TBMs), and geologic prediction developed a lot too.

The first point, plus domination among TBM manufacturers, plus heavy state investment into public transport (especially high-speed rail), explains why the list below is exclusively European/Far Asian. In Europe, beyond the Alps, Spain and Italy are very prolific tunnel-diggers.


Tunnel chains

The Joetsu Shinkansen, opened 1982, cuts right through the central mountains of Japan to the western shore – 102 km of tunnels on a 130 km section! This is what I mean by subwayisation. The European champion in this is Italy – for example, over 90% of the new 78 km Bologna–Florence high-speed link (opens 2007) is in seven tunnels (map), the last of which was broken through six weeks ago.

Rio dei Cani crossing between Sadurano and Monte Bibele tunnels south of Bologna, Bologna–Florence high-speed line (screen capture from promo video [WMV!])

But all three main links across the Alps will be tunnel chains, too: those giant 50+km base tunnels will be less than half the corresponding line's in-tunnel total. For example, the Franco-Italian Lyon–Turin link will have seven more long tunnels, adding up to c. 80 km.


Tunnel complexes

We'd imagine tunnels as a tube across a rock. But nowadays, they build systems of tubes and shafts. For a start: for safety reasons, the emerging new norm is to separate traffic directions in twin tunnels: no danger of frontal collision, and one tube can be the other's escape tunnel. Super-long tunnels also have emergency stations – ventilation and evacuation routes make these a whole world under the Earth:

Current state of progress on the Sedrun access/emergency station complex on the Gotthard Base Tunnel (screenshot of end of Flash movie here). The emergency station, with a ski resort 800 m above it, may be converted to passenger station Porta Alpina

But what makes some newer tunnels really complex is interconnections. For example, the Innsbruck bypass tunnel in Austria was built so that it connects to the Brenner pass route, but also has branching-off tunnel stubs for future underground connection to the Brenner Base tunnel, and another towards a future western portal!...

(If your head is not spinning, check out a longer piece I wrote on tunnels on my own blog earlier this year.)


List of 20+km tunnels1
(excluding subway, water, sewage and pipeline tunnels)

  1. Gotthard Base 57,051 m (75 km with later extension)
    Switzerland. 54.1% of all shafts and tunnels bored, to be opened around 2015
  2. Brenner Base 55,600 m (64.3 km with exit across Innsbruck bypass tunnel)
    Austria/Italy. Detailed geological research begins this year, I don't think target date of 2015 can be made
  3. Seikan 53,850 m
    Japan, Honshu–Hokkaido subsea tunnel, to be made part of Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen (from Tokyo to the north) with rails relaid, world's longest since opening 1988
  4. Mount d'Ambin Base 53,100 m
    France/Italy, main part of Lyon–Turin link. Access shaft constructions underway, also NIMBY protests at Italian end. Opens after 2015
  5. Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) 50,450 m
    Famous Franco-British subsea tunnel and (in no small part thanks to Thatcher) financial wreckage, opened 1994
  6. Lötschberg Base 34,577 m
    Switzerland, Simplon line, breakthroughs 28 April this year, opening (as world's 3rd longest) with second tube half-finished in 2007
  7. Koralm 32,800 m
    Austria, south-west of Graz, central part of long-missing but way-too-expensive mainline to Klagenfurt (Jörg Haider lobbied for it), detailed geologic investigations/access tunnels started this year, to be opened 2016
  8. Semmering Base 29,000 m
    Austria, south-west of Vienna, long-running squabbles may yet hold up start of construction and opening planned at the same time as the Koralm Tunnel (see my very first Monday Train Blogging)
  9. Guadarrama 28,419 m
    Spain, north of Madrid, breakthroughs 5 May/1 June this year, on new Madrid–Segovia–Valladolid high-speed line to be opened 2007 (making Guadarrama world's then 4th longest)
  10. (Taihang Shan?) 27,800 m
    China, south-east of Beijing, on new Shijiazhuang–Taiyuan high-speed line to be opened for 200 km/h for the 2008 Olympics already – I believe when I see it, construction started only this year
  11. Hakkoda 26,455 m
    Japan, Tohoku Shinkansen, breakthrough in February this year, on section Hachinohe–Aomori to be opened 2010
  12. Iwate–ichinohe 25,810 m
    Japan, Tohoku Shinkansen, on Morioka-Hachinohe section opened 2002 (making the tunnel world's 3rd longest)
  13. (Wonju–Jecheon) 25,100 m
    South Korea, east of Seoul between said cities, I don't know much beyond that the plan has been accepted last year
  14. Pajares 24,667 m
    Spain, high-speed line to Oviedo/Gijón. Three of five main bores began this year, remaining two soon, opens about 2010
  • Laerdal 24,510 m
    Norway – world champion of road tunnel construction with its fjords –, road to Bergen. By far the longest road tunnel, opened 2000. Single-tube: the clock is ticking for a fire disaster
  1. Wienerwald+Lainzer 23,940 m
    Austria, two-section tunnel connecting the new high-speed line from the west into two terminals in Vienna. Wienerwald main bores started this year, Lainzer earlier, opens 2012 (Lainzer part possibly only later)
  2. Iiyama 22,225 m
    Japan, on the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen (which was built for the Nagano Winter Olympics). Digging well advanced, but line opens only in 2013
  3. Daishimizu 22,221 m
    The third tunnel built under a demanding mountain pass north-west of Tokyo, on the Joetsu Shinkansen opened in 1982 (making Daishimizu then world's longest)

  1. There is no official institution in the world keeping track of tunnels – but Gunnar Lotsberg of Norway does that on his site (to which I am a contributor), which has good enough reference value for even UN documents having had plagiarised it. But I'd owe him some updates, which are in the list here.


Previous Monday Train Bloggings:

  1. (Premiere/ modern Austrian trains & locos)
  2. Adventure
  3. Fast Steam
  4. Heavy Haul
  5. Forgotten Colorado
  6. The Hardest Job
  7. Blowback
  8. Highest Speed
  9. New England Autumn
  10. Trainwreck
  11. Bigger Than Big Boy

Display:
In Europe, beyond the Alps, Spain and Italy are very prolific tunnel-diggers.
My God, you should have seen how many tunnels (both for metro and for normal automobile traffic) have been drilled in Madrid over the last 10 years. It's insane.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 08:03:56 AM EST
Yeah, I know that Madrid now has the world's sixth longest subway network and may become third, with a third of the population of the smallest before it... now if only subways were built at the tenth of Madrid's speed in Budapest... and just half as economically as the Metrosur...

(BTW, as for what I am less happy about, I read that a section of Madrid's circular highway is now digged by the world's two widest TBMs, both over 15 m.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 08:53:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm, I suspect you have a more positive opinion of Metrosur than most people in Madrid, but you actually know the facts and can put them in context. Can you elaborate?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 09:01:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect you have a more positive opinion of Metrosur than most people in Madrid

Well, I don't know about Madrileans' opinions, but planning and building 40 km of subways, buying and putting into working order trains for them in three years and of only €1 billion is a big feat. For comparison, Metro line 4 in Budapest may start construction after 15 years of squabbling and planning next year, and not opened until 2010, even tough it is only 7.5 km, and it will colst nearly a billion.

hat is Madrileans' problem with it? Unnecessary politicians' investment, impractical, delays?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 09:08:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
PP politicians have a penchant for Pharaoh-like public works. Ruiz Gallardon is reponsible for a massive expansion of the Metro network when he was Regional president (this explains Metrosur and the Metro link to the airport), while at the same time the Mayor, Alvarez del Manzano (also from the PP but not friendly with R-G) spent the best part of 8 years digging up streets and digging underpasses.

Ruiz-Gallardon has now replace Alvarez del Manzano as mayor.

I usually joke that someone's cousing must have bought a TBM and needs to use it, as well as get public funds to pay it off.

Ruiz Gallardon has left Madrid with an outstanding, cheap Metro network, and I supposed he'll eventually be recognized for that. The drilling of road underpasses for private traffic is much more disruptive and less useful.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 09:15:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, I ocassionally come across Spanish-language articles, which I can more or less decipher with my minimal Latin (and emerging French) knowledge. But I always wondered about the easy Spanish name of TBMs - tuneladora[sp?] -, how was that word formed and what does it mean literally?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 09:21:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tuneladora is a neologism, I believe.

Túnel is a tunnel, obviously.

Tunelar is "to drill tunnels". I am not sure it was standard Spanish (now, post Ruiz-Gallardon, it is!).

Tuneladora is "she who drills tunnels". This is because máquina is of the feminine grammatical gender in Spanish.

By analogy, a drill is taladro or taladradora (a drill bit is not taladro but broca, don't ask me why). Taladrar means to bore a hole. So, TBM does translate as taladradora, but those are hand-held so I suppose it's good they came up with a new term.

Another word for "boring holes" is trepanar, and trépano is the instrument used.

"Hole boring" can also be translated as aburrir a los agujeros, but that's just a snark.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 09:31:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Broca may perhaps relate to "broach" a five sided tapered reamer once used in metal working (now in clockmaking)
by dmun on Thu Dec 15th, 2005 at 11:20:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Talking about PP public works and their cousins... Did you hear about the stretch of high-speed line built in Girona (between Barcelona and the French border) pretty much on quicksand? The high-speed train can't run very fast on that track, I'm told.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 09:43:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Girona? Didn't heard of it, but sounds strange: to my knowledge, the high-speed section there (in tunnel, along with the new line) didn't even begin construction!

On the other hand, you mentioned Pharaonic PP projects, I mentioned cheap projects, and the worst combination was the Madrid-Barcelona line, so bad it is put up as bad example across Europe:

  • On the already opened section until Lleida, dismissing geologists, near Zaragoza the line was built upon a limestone plateau in which there are constantly implosions caused by water - one happened just next to the line when opening, causing speed restrictions (maybe you heard this?).

  • Also on the opened section, Aznar's government boldly went for betting on the first European installation of the new all-European train control/signalling system ERTMS Level 2, just handing the tender to the cheapest offer from Ansaldo/Italy. But the technology just couldn't come out of its teething troubles, not Ansaldo's version, and not even until today, and the standard Spanish system had to be installed as back-up - meaning much slower speeds...

  • On the Lleida-Barcelona section, again dismissing the warnings of geologists, the line was planned to run down from the mountains towards the Mediterranean along the simplest route, on the side of a valley - but that valley side is instable, it is moving, and two tunnels were badly deformed in just a few months - with years of delay and a hundred million extra cost, some emergency solution was needed...

  • Meanwhile, the agreement with the Barcelona city council just couldn't be finished, so the final leg started construction also late.

(To be fair, ERTMS Lev 2 had its problems in other countries and from other manufacturers too, and Siemens - one of the train deliverers, see my earlier Highest Speed diary - is also way late - because it made an offer based on a German train it made jointly with Bombardier, and assumed they'll get the licenses easily... but didn't get them at all, so Siemens had to re-develop all Bombardier parts...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 10:31:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(in tunnel, along with the new line)

I mean, along with the old line (the broad gauge, to-be-converted-to-standard-gauge, for-freight/local trains line).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 10:33:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A fascinating research, as always. One minor correction: "Tokaido" should be "Hokkaido" (No.3, Seikan). I admit I never went through any of the tunnels listed, except the Channel.

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 07:56:59 PM EST
OK I must have passed through Daishimizu (No.17), while I was asleep.

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 07:59:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Double error - corrected!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 12:33:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
London Underground's Northern Line tunnel between East Finchley and Morden (on the section via Bank station) is 27.8 km.

The oldest tunnel in current use is on the East London line between Wapping and Rotherhithe. It was built as a twin pedestrian tunnel by Sir Marc Brunel in 1843 and was converted to railway use 20 years later. Sir Mark was the father of the more famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the designer of ships and the Great Western (or "God's Wonderful") Railway. The sub-Thames tunnel is now a protected historic structure.  

by Londonbear on Mon Dec 12th, 2005 at 11:58:11 PM EST
London Underground's Northern Line

Sorry, I forgot to exclude subway tunnels! If I included them, there would be several more on the list - for example, the 40.5 km circular Metrosur line in Madrid I discussed with Migeru.

BTW, can you find a source with the precise (to the meter, I only have to 100 m or even 1 km) length for the two giant London tunnels along the CTRL-2?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

A legend, tough I was surprised that when BBC(?) had people vote on the greatest British inventor, he came out on top. (And your city has an amazing ensemble of architectural monuments, makes me envious!)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 12:50:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Monday also saw the start of  a high speed service- that is up to 125 mph - on the West Coast route between London and Glasgow. Unlike the new high speed lines this was an upgrading of an existing routs with a little curve smoothing to allow high speed running. The Virgin Rail service uses Pendolino tilting trains which up to now have had to run with the tilting mechanism disabled as parts of the line were too narrow to allow two to pass safely.

 

by Londonbear on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 12:11:09 AM EST
Finally!!!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 12:42:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The location is Shibuya, Tokyo ca 1960. The ugly building on the left is still there. The lower right corner was a cheap movie theater.

(Source: Japan Society of Civil Engineers Digital Archives)

I will become a patissier, God willing.

by tuasfait on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 08:46:28 AM EST
The lower right corner was a cheap movie theater.

Have you seen "Fantomas", Mylene Demongeot et al there? ;-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 12:56:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw them first release, with parents. The first movie I saw myself was 007.

I will become a patissier, God willing.
by tuasfait on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 08:48:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I note Spain could get on the list of longest tunnels by 2020 right behind the 50+km beasts, with two 42 km tunnels: the ones under the Gibraltar Straits and across the Pyrenees. There are intergovernmental agreements about both, and geologic surveys were written out, but I wouldn't bet at a construction start anytime soon - neither looks too economic.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Dec 14th, 2005 at 10:30:05 AM EST


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