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The Gotthard railway (2/2)

by DoDo Sat Aug 31st, 2013 at 05:04:20 PM EST

In three years, Switzerland will open the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT). In this second part of my documentation of the old mountain line while it still carries all traffic, I cover the southern ramp, from the exit of the old Gotthard Tunnel to the exit of the GBT, along the Ticino river in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

After five full minutes, German Railways (DB) 185 107 and a sister (both factory type: Bombardier TRAXX F140AC1) reached the bottom of the double spiral next to Biaschina Gorge with an intermodal freight train, while Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) class 430 No. 355 (old designation: Re 4/4III 11355) follows on the middle level with a ballast train

I finished the first part at the rebuilt northern portal of the Gotthard Tunnel. The railway line reaches its summit at 1,151 m above the sea shortly before the southern portal at Airolo. The latter changed, too: a road was routed above the exit, thus the nice masonry portal disappeared behind ugly concrete. The changes to the portals lengthened the tunnel from the original 14,982 m to the current 15,003 m. The valley of the Ticino descends towards the east-southeast, thus the tunnel exit is a sharp curve.

Tilting train SBB RABDe 500 009 "Friedrich Dürrenmatt" on a northbound InterCity-Neigezug (ICN) service is about to enter the Gotthard Tunnel on a sunny evening

At the other end of Airolo (1,142 m above the sea), there is a valley step, where the river drops about 100 metres in elevation in the Gola di Stalvedro (Stalvedro Gorge). Just before, the railway changes to the other side of the valley, with an 83 m viaduct above the Ticino. As on the north ramp, most of the original steel bridges of the southern ramp have been replaced by masonry bridges in the last century.

On the bottom left of this downriver valley view with the village of Madreno, an SBB Re 620 (Re 6/6) and an SBB Re 430 (Re 4/4III), a common pairing for the Gotthard route also dubbed "Re 10/10", exits a tunnel and arrives on the viaduct with a northbound container train

Along the next flatter and wider section of the valley, the railway curves along the southern valley side.

Another SBB RABDe 500 on a southbound ICN service recedes after having met my northbound InterRegio (IR) limited-stop regional train

The next, twice as big valley step starts at Rodi-Fiesso, below the old roadside hotel of Dazio Grande, in quite dramatic fashion: the river disappears into a gorge, the railway (paralleled by the old road) crosses it at the end of a curve, and the highway passes in the opposite direction underneath. What's also worth to note on the photos below is that the managers of SBB still aren't completely enamoured by the notion of "corporate identity": most old locos still sport their 1970s–1980s liveries and even their original numbering and names in metallic letters.

Above: another "Re 10/10" (led by SBB Re 620 082 = Re 6/6 11682 "Pfäffikon SZ") just passed Rodi-Fiesso station with a southbound intermodal freight train

Below: SBB Re 420 206 (Re 4/4II 11206) with a northbound IR left the point where all roads cross

Immediately after, there is a tunnel.

Above: an SBB RABDe 500 on a southbound ICN service recedes towards the gorge

Below: the same train seen through the tunnel

While the river plunges into the Gola di Monte Piottino (Gorge of Mount Piottino; see in my Summer Holiday Photo Blog contribution), the railway scales most of the 200 m height difference of the valley step in two spiral tunnels. After the 1,568 m long first one, in the north valley side, the line crosses the river in cuttings across the top of the rocks of the gorge.

Having passed the embankment on the right in the middle of the picture a minute earlier, tilting train SBB (formerly Cisalpino) ETR 470 002 on a southbound EC service (towards Milan) left the bottom portal of the spiral tunnel and passes the bridge above the gorge

There used to be a level crossing here (in place of the road overpass I made the photo from), with the guard's abandoned house still standing. That's where I fled when a storm arrived the previous day, but it was no use as the thunder and heavy rain was unabated for two hours when I couldn't wait any longer and ran up to Dazio Grande to catch a bus.

About a kilometre down the valley, there is the 1,567 m long lower spiral tunnel, and immediately after, the line returns to the north side of the valley on a 103 m viaduct. An interesting oddity is the short tunnel for one track only (which unfortunately was closed for maintenance when I was there). From the Gotthard trail that runs high above, there is a beautiful view on all of this and even the upper level of the previous spiral (though the bushes below the trail would need a clearing).

An SBB Re 460 with a southbound IR left the bottom of the lower spiral tunnel, with the portal of another tunnel on the upper level also visible on the left. In the background upper right, the brownish inverted triangle with a white line on top is the same masonry embankment beyond to the upper portal of the upper spiral tunnel which is also on the previous photo

One of the construction bases of the GBT (from where the tunnel is accessed via an intermediate access shaft) is just downriver from the viaduct on the above photo. Shortly after, snaking along the bottom of the northern valley side,the line arrives in the station of Faido, the only intermediate station along the southern ramp still served by the limited-stop regional trains since all-stopper trains were "replaced" with buses in 1994, a measure then justified with the need for more line capacity for through trains. (Since the end of 2010, there is again one pair of commuter trains with additional stops extended to Airolo, though.)

On the stormy day, another "Re 10/10" (led by SBB Re 620 068 = Re 6/6 11668) reaches Faido station in an S-curve with another southbound intermodal freight train

After another wider valley section, beyond the station of Lavorgo, another large valley step with a 200 m drop starts. The first two kilometres of the Gola della Biaschina (Biaschina Gorge) are less dramatic. The railway and the road run directly above the Ticino river, while the elevated highway spoils the other side of the valley.

SBB Re 460 100 with a northbound IR will soon climb out of the gorge

A kilometre further, the gorge drops down, and the railway reaches the most spectacular section of the southern ramp: two successive loops above each other, with viaducts and spiral tunnels. To complete the jumble of engineering spectacles, the much steeper road curves through the middle while the highway passes high above on a large viaduct. Descending along the road riding the steep mountainside, the first sight is on the middle level, at the bottom exit of the 1,509 m long upper spiral tunnel.

An SBB RABDe 500 on a southbound ICN service left the upper spiral tunnel above the gorge

After the road-overpass-cum-short-tunnel, the middle level continues on an embankment.

SBB (formerly Cisalpino) ETR 470 0x9 "Insubrico" is visibly tilting both ways into the S-curve as it recedes towards the lower spiral tunnel on a southbound EC service

The class of the tilting train on the above photo is one infamously plagued by technical problems, and indeed the trains were replaced by locomotive-pulled trains at least once each day I was there (one is shown on the first photo in part one). It happened on my day of arrival in Switzerland, too, then causing a 20-minute cascading delay affecting the trains I rode too. The trains used to be operated by the "Cisalpino" joint venture of SBB and Trenitalia, which in 2009 was dissolved and the trains were divided between the partners upon failure to rein in the problems, now SBB wants to retire theirs next year.

Back to the middle level of the double spiral, the road continues down in a serpentine curve around a picturesque hamlet, from where the top level of the railway is visible: a 111 m viaduct between the upper spiral tunnel and another tunnel.

SBB Re 420 132 (Re 4/4II 11132) descends on the middle level with a southbound IR

After the second, 1,547 m long spiral tunnel, the line switches to the southern valley side again. From there, all three levels are perfectly visible (also see above the fold) – and I did manage to capture a moment when there were trains on all three levels.

SBB Re 420 121 (Re 4/4II 11121) with a southbound IR exits the lower spiral tunnel and crosses the river at the lowest level, the end of a northbound IR on the middle level can barely be seen in the shadow of the highway viaduct, while DB 185 136 and a sister (both Bombardier TRAXX F140AC1) with their southbound mixed freight reached the viaduct on the upper level and will soon meet the IR within the upper spiral tunnel

Downriver from Biaschina Gorge, the line runs along the edge of the valley bottom.

Seen from the hamlet at the middle level of the double spiral, quadruple-voltage loco 186 109 (Bombardier F140MS) of Swiss private operator railCare is about to enter the lower spiral tunnel with a northbound intermodal freight train

On the edge of the next town, Giornico, there is a last cross-over to the northern side of the Ticino, and nearby is the steepest section of the entire line (27‰), but this section is less photogenic due to noise barriers.

After Bodio the line passes over the southern portal of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. I don't have a photo of it, but it isn't any more impressive than the northern portal shown in part one. Here the new line runs along the already flat bottom of the valley while the old line finishes its descent, crosses the major tributary Brenno on yet another viaduct, then turns south and arrives at the bottom station of the southern ramp: Biasca (293 m above the sea). This is also the end-point of frequent all-stopper passenger trains from the south, yet all station facilities (including toilets) were closed by the early evening.

Above: looking north as SBB RABe 524 007 (a Stadler FLIRT) waits for departure as an S10 service (which crosses the border into Italy) in the rapid-transit-style TiLo regional passenger service network, with various shunter locomotives on standby

Below: SBB RABDe 500 008 "Vincenzo Vela" and 022 "Expo.02" recede towards Bellinzona on a southbound ICN service

In one additional diary, I'll show what runs above the Gotthard Tunnel.

:: :: :: :: ::

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

Photo selection was really difficult this time: I wanted to keep it to 20 but my initial selection of candidates was exactly twice as much.

Here is a non-railway bonus photo: the Sun sets on the mountainside near Airolo.

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

by DoDo on Sat Aug 31st, 2013 at 08:04:16 AM EST
Great diary.  Those rolling, grassy hills remind me of California.
by corncam on Sat Aug 31st, 2013 at 11:55:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm a big fan of your photos. They'd make great calendars for railway lovers, too.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Mon Sep 2nd, 2013 at 05:28:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All my photos show only machines and landscapes. Here is an extra with some photos also showing people, mostly railwaymen doing difficult work, from both ramps, ordered north to south.

Mountain railways require constant heavy maintenance. Last year, the entire Gotthard line was closed for a month because of a rockslide. While I was there, there was one section on both ramps with one track closed for maintenance. The one on the northern ramp was for superstructure maintenance near Amsteg. A worker walks along the viaduct above the town:

The Gotthard railway has a relatively modern train control system, with dispatchers at larger stations controlling longer sections of track electronically, albeit these are housed in ugly additions to the old station buildings. On the stormy day, it was possible to photograph across the tainted glass of the dispatcher's office at Göschenen station (at the north portal of the Gotthard Tunnel):

At Airolo, there was a rail loading train with a day's load of removed old rails. One guy walked its entire length atop the rails, while his colleague was shutting down the rail manipulator (effectively a piggyback mini-locomotive, with the sides of the wagons as its "track"; check video here):

As told in the diary, at the lower spiral in the Gola di Monte Piottino, one track was closed for maintenance. Here people are working on the overhead line just above the upper exit of the spiral tunnel (below a highway viaduct):

On another photo from Faido station, you see a difficulty in the work of conductors: they have to check whether passengers finished boarding, for which they have to walk far from the train at stations with curved platforms, even if it rains or snows and passing freight trains create vortices.

The only fellow railfan I met upon outside stations was the reckless fella visible as a matchstick at the horseshoe curve in the middle of the photo below, who was photographing trains on the middle level between the two spiral tunnels next to the Gola della Biaschina from the middle of the road (he went even further in when the previous train came):

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

by DoDo on Sat Sep 7th, 2013 at 06:18:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The only fellow railfan I met upon outside stations was the reckless fella

I misread that as feckless railer.

by njh on Fri Sep 13th, 2013 at 11:06:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have a map showing the exact itinerary taken by the trains?

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 1st, 2013 at 05:44:38 PM EST
Do you mean a map, or something with data on stations and structures along the way? You can find both in the German Wikipedia article of the line: the route data (with sketch track map, station & bridge & tunnel & connecting line names, track kilometres, lengths and elevations) is in the box on the right, a thumbnail link on the left leads to an overview map of the entire line, and similar thumbnail links on the right show the Pfaffensprung spiral and Wassen horseshoe curves on the northern ramp resp. the Gola di Monte Piottino and Gola della Biaschina spirals on the southern ramp.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 2nd, 2013 at 01:43:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I could as well insert the images.

Overview map (from Zurich to Milan; the endpoints of the ramps, Erstfeld resp. Biasca, are also shown):

Map of the section in the Gola di Monte Piottino (north-northeast is up):

Map of the section next to the Gola della Biaschina (east-northeast is up):

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

by DoDo on Mon Sep 2nd, 2013 at 11:34:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 5th, 2013 at 06:06:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, thanks.

how much planning goes into the selection of photos that you'll take ? Or do you leave it to chance ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 11:53:25 AM EST
Heh. I learnt that, one one hand, without planning you'll just end up wasting time and cursing at missed chances; on the other hand, it is impossible to keep to plans :-)

In effect, my planning grew ever more complex:

  1. Print out a schedule for local rail/bus
  2. Scout for possible good spots with Google Maps and a trekking map (for access paths & elevations)
  3. Guess the time of day when lights are favourable at each spot & assemble them in a rough itinerary (with walk, train and bus times considered)
  4. During arrival by train, check the surroundings from the train (for obstruction of chosen spots by changed vegetation, buildings, fences etc., resp. for new spots thanks to clearings etc.), modify rough itinerary accordingly
  5. Re-shuffle plans on the spot if unexpected sights or if slow progress, the weather, road closures or angry farmers bring unforeseen problems :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Sep 3rd, 2013 at 02:21:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Union Pacific to restore Big Boy locomotive

The Big Boys were 4-8-8-4 steam locomotives that were built during the 1940s for us in the western United States.  They were the largest steam locos in regular use in the U.S.

by corncam on Thu Sep 5th, 2013 at 01:25:22 PM EST
Restore to working order, to boot; though without a time schedule yet:

UP: Union Pacific Railroad Acquires Big Boy Locomotive No. 4014

Omaha, Neb., July 23, 2013 - Union Pacific Railroad today announced it reached an agreement with the Southern California Chapter - Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in Pomona, Calif., to transfer ownership of one of the world's largest steam locomotives, Big Boy No. 4014, back to Union Pacific.

Union Pacific plans to relocate No. 4014 to Cheyenne, Wyo., where Union Pacific's Heritage Fleet Operations team will work to restore it to operating condition. Details regarding those efforts will be made public at a later date.

the largest steam locos in regular use

Obligatory nitpick: my old diary Bigger Than Big Boy, and one of its sources, The "Largest" Steam Locomotives by Wes Barris. Those severely overweight C&O H-8 "Alleghenys" (axleload of drivers: 78,500 lbs = 35.6 metric tons!) are still among my favourites.

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

by DoDo on Fri Sep 6th, 2013 at 04:48:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... what's the smallest town or city that the TGV network goes through rather than around?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Sep 6th, 2013 at 12:40:09 AM EST
In terms of stations? None of the TGV stations on dedicated HS lines (that I know of) are actually in town -- the only exception I know of is Lille, where the station is on HS line in town.  The TGV stops in the bigger cities : Paris, Lyon, Marseille, etc -- use historical stations and share the rails with normal trains.

The stations that serve smaller towns -- Avignon, Valence, Mâcon etc -- are new build, at least a couple of km out of town, generally not even in walking distance of the nearest village I suspect the network was designed by the taxi drivers' trade union.

hmmm I guess that means the answer is Lille (around 1 million people). Any better answers?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Sep 6th, 2013 at 04:42:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... not to eurogreen in particular of course ...

Because of 1m was considered enough to do that? Because Lille or its regional government front the cost? Because the alignment through Lille was more convenient than an alignment bypassing Lille?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Sep 6th, 2013 at 03:40:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The last, I suspect: Lille de facto merged with several neighbouring cities, towns and villages and there isn't much "around" it. It's really convenient, BTW (I was there at a conference in 2010).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Sep 6th, 2013 at 04:25:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The western branch of LGV Rhin-Rhône was supposed to go through Dijon with a tunnel, but there was no set construction date even under Sarkozy (there was one under Jospin, though).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Sep 6th, 2013 at 04:28:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This fits here too:
With a 16 year delay the second tunnel through Hallandsåsen is finished.

Hallandsås Tunnel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

By the end of August 2013, a total of 5,379 m (17,648 ft) or 99.1 percent of the western bore had been drilled, and on 4 September 2013, the second tunnel broke through.[6][7]

This will enhance train communications between Malmö and Gothenburg, as the existing single track winding around is a bottleneck. However it is also a cautionary tale against trying to tunneling through a porous ridge on the cheap. The first attempt in the 90'ies ended quite badly.

Hallandsås Tunnel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Construction began in 1992, and the traffic opening was originally planned for 1995. However, construction was plagued by major difficulties concerning large amounts of water seeping in from surrounding rock, only a small fraction of which had been foreseen. Additionally, the original drill broke down after drilling only 18 m (59 ft). A scandal also broke out when it was learned that a poisonous sealing compound called "Rhoca-Gil" was used during construction. This substance was linked to the death of nearby livestock. Rhoca-Gil contains acrylamide, a toxic chemical that is mutagenic and possibly carcinogenic. The main contractor, Skanska, took no special precautions for the sealant, nor did it tell its own workers or the local population of the risks. By October 1997, local cattle and fish started dying and workers were becoming ill. The local press started an investigation. After tests were done showing high levels of acrylamide contamination, the site was declared a high risk zone and the sale of agricultural products from the region was banned. Skanska, along with Rhone-Poulenc and Swedish Railways all had criminal charges brought against them; some senior executives resigned as a result.

Construction was halted in late 1997. By this time, nearly 3 km (1.9 mi) had been bored in each tunnel: 1,200 m (3,937 ft) at the north end, 1,700 m (5,577 ft) at the south end, and 40 m (131 ft) at the central adit).[1]

The new attempt (from 2005 and onwards) instead used a slower, more expensive but in the end mre effective technique.

Hallandsås Tunnel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

. The TBM, nicknamed "Åsa", is a comprehensive tunnelling machine; as the TBM drills through the strata, it simultaneously installs the precast concrete tunnel lining segments, then injecting a mortar-and-gravel slurry into the resulting voids between the strata and the lining. The problem of drilling through saturated rock and soil is being tackled by drilling a pilot tunnel ahead of the TBM, and then freezing the surrounding rock to a temperature of −40°C (−40°F), thereby guaranteeing solid strata for the TBM's progress.[2]

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sat Sep 7th, 2013 at 07:40:02 AM EST

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