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Another long tunnel

by DoDo Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:48:04 AM EST

A whole lot of big rail projects open this year and next. A week ago, the LGV Est Européenne entered service (see diaries on VIP opening trains, record run). Last weekend, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel (LBT) was opened in Switzerland. At precisely 34.576.6 m long, it is the world's current third longest after the two 50+km giants (Seikan, Chunnel).

BLS 465 001 with a freight train blasts across the paper at the north portal. Photo from the official site



The Lötschberg Route

A century ago, a second Swiss transalpine line has been built, along the Berne[Swiss capital]–Milan axis. It involved two giant tunnels: the famous Simplon, which was the world's longest for a long long time, and the less famous Lötschberg.

The Lötschberg section was less an answer to demand from the economy than an attempt by the city and canton of Berne to get back some importance. A line with several bridges and spiral tunnels on the climb up a former glacier valley from the north resp. the steep side of the Rhône valley from the south to a 14,612 m summit tunnel had to be tremendously expensive already.

Tunnel breakthrough on 31 March 1911. Photo from Droste Orlowski

After diverse other disasters including an avalanche, in 1908 the north tunnel bore hit upon a giant water reservoir: the washout killed 26, and boring had to be re-started on an avoiding route (ending up a kilometre longer than originally planned). Thus when finished, the line was a financial catastrophe, too.

But, as decades passed, the Lötschberg became a fairly well-frequented freight route, reaching the capacity limit. The line was double-tracked in full in the nineties, and then the track was 'sunk' in the tunnels so that truck-carrying cars fit in. Meanwhile, operating semi-private railway (stock owners are the state and cantons) BLS got profitable.

Truck transport over dizzy heights. BLS Re 465 008 and 005 descend the South Ramp of the Lötschberg route with a RoLa (Rollende Landstraße = rolling country road) train, reaching the Luogelkinn viaduct high above the Rhône valley. Photo by Markus Blaser from BR146.de


The new Base Tunnel

Also in the nineties, Switzerland decided to stop highway construction and start the giant rail project of the NEue Alpen-Transversale (NEw Alpine Transit-routes, NEAT). The aim is for quasi-level (no steep climbs) routes with long tunnels across the base of mountains to carry the bulk of freight transit, and also high-speed trains. One line crosses the 57 km in-construction Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT), which, though half bored, may still be nine years from opening. The other is the LBT, built for political reasons not dissimilar to those behind the original line, but also as temporary solution until the GBT opens.

Bridges across the Rhône to the south-east portal at Raron, during construction two years ago. We are at the base of the mountain just below where the Re 465s above were photographed. Photo from the official site

Still, with traffic projections well below the capacity of a full twin-tube tunnel, economic reasons led to a partial construction.

Sketch map from the official site showing the now finished first phase of the LBT. Legend:

  • Black: old Lötschberg line resp. Rhône valley line
  • Zebra black: old Lötschberg tunnel (check the big bend in it!)
  • Green: access and exploratory tunnels
  • Green dots: portals
  • Thick red: tunnel with tracks
  • Zebra red: raw tunnel
  • Thin red: open-air connecting sections

There is a two-kilometre buried tunnel beyond the north portal. The south-west portal at Steg will see rails at the same time the second tube is finished: the misty future

Work was not without problems, even if those problems weren't as grave as a century earlier. There was a workers' strike in one intermediate access, because there wasn't enough air when they worked on four tunnel faces – a second shaft had to be bored for ventilation. On the southern section, where tunnel boring machines (TBMs) munched away geotechnically less problematic stone, reaching layers with natural asbestos also led to a strike, and special solutions to make the workplace airtight. And on the very last stretch before the last holing-through two kilometres deep in the mountain, an unexpected coal-carrying problem zone slowed down work.

But all the problems have been mastered in the end. Digging finished 28 April 2005, then concrete has been poured, tracks have been laid, catenary has been drawn. Running tests started December 2006, even a German high-speed train came for tests up to 280 km/h (for 250 km/h service in the future). Freight trains started to cross in the framework of 'operative tests' from March.

The DB (German Railways) ICE-R (ex -S) high-speed test train enters the north portal in January. On 16 December, it took the Swiss speed record with 280 km/h (the prior record of 241 km/h was also in a then new tunnel). The ICE-S also holds the Austrian speed record (305 km/h), but not the German one. Photo from the official site

Finally on 15 June, the opening ceremony was held. The next day, pilot passenger service started, it takes 17 minutes across the tunnel. When full capacity service ensues from 9 December, express trains will cut 34 minutes in travel time.


Other rail projects opening in the near future

  • I mentioned in the intro that the LGV Est Européenne that opened (for TGV Est Européen service) a week earlier.

  • On the same date as the LBT, the new Betuweroute railway, built for freight trains from Rotterdam port to Germany, saw its first commercial train.

  • On 14 November, the second leg of High Speed 1, ex Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) will finish the high-speed line into London, cutting another 20 minutes from Eurostar journey times.

  • In December, the Madrid–Segovia–Valladolid/Medina del Campo high-speed line, which includes the world's then fourth longest tunnel, the 28,418.66 m long Guadarrama (rail) tunnel, will enter service.

  • Also in December, the second and final section of the Córdoba–Málaga high-speed line shall be finished.

  • Promised also for December, but it should be a miralce, the final leg of the Madrid–Barcelona high-speed line should be ready.

  • On 1 December, the Antwerp–Amsterdam HSL 4/HSL Zuid high-speed will follow, albeit only with 160 km/h: due to unending problems with the new European signalling system ERTMS Lev 2, Thalys trains are scheduled for full speed only from October 2008.

  • Though the track will be ready in December 2007, the Liège–Aachen high-speed line (HSL/LGV 3) in Belgium will see Thalys trains only a year later: the problem is again ERTMS Lev 2.

  • Autumn 2008: Örnsköldsvik–Husum section of the Botniabanan in northern Sweden, a new mixed-traffic mainline.

  • End of 2008: Milan–Bologna high-speed line, some sections already used as relief route for low-speed mainline.

  • Also end of 2008: Bologna–Florence high-speed line, this one consists of a dozen long tunnels with brief glimpses of daylight in-between (also see my 'boring' Tunnels diary).

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

Display:
So, boring or not?

I would be grateful to Italian and Spanish (and Belgian and Dutch) readers if they could precisify, confirm or correct the dates given.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:27:47 AM EST
"Boring" a tunnel! Great! You remembered!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:03:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't dig underground humour...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:33:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could be trained to...
by gioele (gioele(daught)sandler(aaaattttt)gmail(daught)kom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:35:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now you're on that right lines ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:37:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Living in barceloan .. adn waiting for the high spped train.. i cna guarantee you that waiting so many years is boring!!!

Yours not!!!

Cross fingers for December!!

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:23:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you take some photos of construction works in and West of the city? Or find me a Spanish - and/or, er, Catalan - page with such photos?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:09:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Try this, with some pictures and Youtube clips.
http://bcnip.blogsome.com/category/seguimiento-de-obras/

If I find more, I will post it.
Cheers!

by amanda2006 on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:18:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The scale of the works is mind-numbing...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:31:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I updated the image captions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:47:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought it would be completed pretty soon too?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:31:26 AM EST
Can you add the links to the previous train diaries at the end of this one? It's a useful reference.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:33:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Done. There were quite a few since my last (Zone Pricing).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:37:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the Lyon-Turin line, too.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:35:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, you mean the Lyons-Torino line? ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:39:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately, Chirac managed to draw out that significantly. Back in Jospin days, even 2012 seemed possible. There was repeated re-tendering for the access tunnels (the 53 km central tunnel will be built from both ends and three intermediate accesses). I think it won't be opened until 2020...

For those interested in the project, read more at the RFF project page, the homepage, and the LTF-SAS homepage.

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

by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:04:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Major works on the East branch only started a year ago. It is tabled for opening at the end of 2011. Check the timeline for various works at RFF [pdf!]. You can also check the site of the line, with construction photos. I posted some here, below one more of the pylons of the Viaduc de La Linotte-Ormenans:



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

by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:51:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and thanks for adding in a bridge....
by PeWi on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 11:39:47 AM EST
Reading this kind of news is quite comforting; these are wonderful engineering undertakings towards the right direction.

But I can't help asking myself when we will ever be able to make such things again, once Cheap Oil is over.

P.S.: HSR to Lisbon only by 2013. The Far West is really far...


You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:57:54 PM EST
By the way, can you tell me what the current plan is: the insane version of a 'partial' high-speed line that ends dozens of kilometres before Lisbon, or one with full connection into Lisbon and Porto? I saw both versions reported.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:07:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The calendar set in 2003 was this:

2009: Oporto - Vigo (max speed 250 Km/h)
2010 : Lisbon - Madrid (max speed 350 Km/h)
2013 : Lisbon - Oporto (max speed 350 Km/h)
2015 : Aveiro - Salamanca (max speed 250 Km/h)
2018 : Faro - Huelva (max speed 250 Km/h)

Right now the prospects are good and Portugal will default on all dates. The Spaniards will comply on all.

The latest media reports say Lisbon - Oporto in 2012 and Lisbon - Madrid in 2013. The other connections have no conclusion date for the moment.

It'll be sheer luck if we manage to complete any of that after Oil goes over, say 90$/b.


You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 03:05:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The portals are a crime of functional design, by the way. It could be the portal of a simple underpass, it looks so bland. Here is the North portal of the old tunnel:

Another photo showing the star of the North ramp of the old line, the Kander viaduct, at a time it is just below the snow line:



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

by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:21:28 PM EST
...and here is the star of the South Ramp, the viaduct of the Bietsch ravine:



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

by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:23:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also in the nineties, Switzerland decided to stop highway construction and start the giant rail project of the NEue Alpen-Transversale (NEw Alpine Transit-routes, NEAT). The aim is for quasi-level (no steep climbs) routes with long tunnels across the base of mountains to carry the bulk of freight transit, and also high-speed trains.

There was a vote on the NEAT. The idea with which the NEAT was sold to the Swiss people was that it will take trucks of the highways. Meaning trucks from, for example, Germany to Italy would load on to the train if the have no destination inside Switzerland. Will be interest to see if the trucks now actually move onto the train. At least the train stations for the trucks are in parts already build.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 04:33:28 PM EST
A RoLa link across the Lötschberg and Simplon, run by Hupac, is already well established. But whether further growth with LBT opened will make a significant dent in highway traffic, on the short run, I have my doubts.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 05:23:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So far the number of trucks on the highways seems to rather increase than get less. But that was one of the main reasoning for the NEAT. Maybe they should increase the highway tariffs for trucks.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 01:35:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The sad fact is that the share of rail increases while the total number of trucks increases too, as total traffic grows. I posted this graph in an earlier diary (A Sound Transport Policy):

I do indeed think that increasing highway traffic, or even quotas for or a total ban of truck transit on road would be necessary for a real change. I don't think market thinking (e.g. just tweaking the price competition of transport modes) achieves anything here.

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

by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 06:23:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that the best way to cut traffic through the Alps is to close tunnels - or at least to put tough restrictions on their access. Of course, this is more effective if all countries do the same... (Austria seems to be the victim of French and Swiww policies)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 07:55:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would you have an idea where I could find information on what kind of asbestos it was?

As I may have professed before, drilling through the Alps is like a geological wet dream. Was I offered to aid with it, I would jump at it like a shot. The geological mapping information that can come out of those sections may solve long-standing issues on how the Alps formed. (Asbestos is likely to indicate metamorphosed plutonic bodies or massive shear zones.)

To more interesting stuff... The story on the Betuwelijn is as long as it is frustrating, and the Antwerp-Amsterdam line is much similar. I got a very nice overview article (in Dutch) on it yesterday. I think it's a diary in itself... Apparently October 2008 is the most positive scenario and 2009 is much more likely. Hopefully once it will be operating the Dutch may finally "get" the use of HSL...

by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 04:43:15 AM EST
DutchNews.nl
Auditor slams high speed train project

20-06-2007

The transport ministry has been heavily criticised in an audit office report into its management of the high-speed rail link (HSL) to Brussels.

The first trains should have been using the railway this spring, but transport minister Camiel Eurlings told MPs a month ago it would be September before he could say when the HSL would finally open.

The audit office blamed the lack of control over the project, the complicated tendering process and the fact that safety problems had been underestimated.

It said there were fears that the trains themselves would be delivered too late. It also predicted fewer passengers would use the HSL than the operating company - a joint venture between Dutch Rail (NS) and airline KLM - predicts.

Last weekend, the Netherlands' other major rail project - the Betuwe freight-only railway from Rotterdam to the German border - opened well behind schedule and heavily over budget.

I don't know who did the audit...

by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 05:48:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About the asbestos trouble, I can give the following details:

The layer containing it was Aktinolith, the TBM in the West bore (which started from the Southwest exit at Steg) hit on it at the beginning of April 2002 (works ceased April 5-13), five months before finishing thus c. 7-7.5 km into the mountain, and here (pdf!) you find the geologic profile -- the asbestos layer must be in that pink zone under the "Lötschental".

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

by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 07:25:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the same profile as in the pdf but with explanations. The pink zone is 'ancient cristallised gneiss and shale'. Here is a picture of an Apophyllit crystal that is supposed to be inset with Aktinolith:



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

by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 07:43:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Forgot the link!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 07:46:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Makes a lot of sense to me now - If my memory serves me right, that is part of the core complex of the Alps, heavily metamorphosed, altered and intruded with igneous bodies. (Thanks for the legend too.)

The mineral in question is in your picture: actinolite (the greenish mineral at the base) - an amphibole which indeed has asbestos qualities. They probably did good to protest and shut operations down...

Shale is BTW probably not the right word, especially not in juxtaposition with gneiss. Shale is the description for a sedimentary rock, gneiss for metamorphosed rock. Highly unlikely to find the two side by side in the very core of the Alps!

by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 08:13:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the English spelling versions of the mineral names.

AFAIK, shale is the exact word for Schiefer, but the way I read it, it is meant to be metamorphosed, too. Since then, I found another article in German (pdf!) that confirms the composition of the surrounding stone as a mixture of metamorphosed gneiss and shale:

Beim Lötschherg-Basistunnel wurde das natürliche Mineral Aktinolith angetroffen, und zwar in alpinen Klüften kalkamphibolführender Gesteine (Amphibolite, Hornblendefels, kristaline Schiefer und schiefrige bis massige amphilolführenden Gneise).


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 09:32:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Already this year I discovered that geological terms in French have at times complete different, sometimes opposite(!) definitions than the ones in English. I don't want the same happening in German!!! There is a reason for the existence of the IUGS.

If with Schiefer a metamorphosed rock is meant, it can't be translated with the English shale. Period.

In your next blockquote they talk about "kristaline Schiefer" - I could interpret that as metamorphosed shale. There is no German word for slate? And what a Hornblendefels exactly is, I can't say either. Hornblende I know, hornfels ditto.

Argh.

(And now for the ultimate PN points: Metamorphosed gneiss is a pleonasm. Gneiss suffices.)

by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 10:53:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hmm, leo gives three words for Schiefer: schist, shale and slate

hmm: metamorphis

interesting as wellall the things I didn't know about Schiefer (in english)

by PeWi on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 11:07:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was afraid that schist would be in there too... I can do now 2 things.

1) Give a lengthy and unnecessary diatribe concerning the differences and meta-wars being fought over these terms (and apparently in different languages as well).

or

2) Congratulate you all with your more than brilliant sleuthing in geological terms and have a beer now.

PeWi, I didn't know about the schist soils... I'll dig into that later.

For now, I'll opt for option 2. G'night!!

by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 11:25:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I neither do I, but I am sitting in spitting distance of some geologists, and could ask them, if needed be.
by PeWi on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 11:52:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Choose 1! Just opened a diary on such language differences.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 01:44:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
PN PN PN!

I find in German, Hornblende is the mineral (equivalent to Amphibole), and Hornblendefels is rock consisting of that mineral only.

I also find that slate shale are both translate to Schiefer. The German Wiki even mentions the language difference:

Im Englischen wird zwischen dem unstrukturierten Sedimentgestein (shale) und dem metamorphen Produkt (slate) unterschieden; letzteres ist der Schiefer im engeren Sinne.

About methamorposed and gneiss, the 'methamorphosed' applies both to Gneis and Schiefer in that sentence, so it's not redundant.

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

by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 11:14:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Before you kick my head, Hornblende is not equivalent to aphibole but only the dark variants.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 11:18:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I got a very nice overview article (in Dutch) on it yesterday. I think it's a diary in itself...

I would be grateful for a translation... or, at least, could you tell me if there are other big delaying factors for high-speed operation (or operation at all) beyond the damned ETCS/ERTMS Level 2? That letter soup designates a partially wireless train control, signalling and safety system that just can't be brought into an operational state, despite separate attempts by multiple companies on multiple new projects over the last six years.

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

by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 09:39:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm behind the news. Just found that on the Mattstetten-Rothrist line in Switzerland, which was originally supposed to open in 2004 with ETCS Lev 2 but then went into service with conventional signalling, trains are run by ETCS only since March. That's significant progress, a line with 240 trains/day truly tests capacity and reliability. But, still only with 160 km/h, raise to 200 promised for December...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 09:55:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This coming Saturday, I'll be gone on a fieldtrip. Trying to get everything tied up here, pretty hectic.
by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 10:55:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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