On the sidewalk in front of the Transport Museum (Verkehrshaus) in Luzern, they have set up the front end of ‘Sissi’, one of the four gigantic tunnel boring machines that were in use simultaneously for several years to create the Gotthard Base Tunnel, a flat rail route consisting of two 57-kilometer single-track tubes running from north to south beneath the Swiss Alps.
Each boring machine had a diameter of 9.58 meters. Note the people walking past on the sidewalk, in my first photo, to get an idea of how huge the machine is.
Attached to the drill head, when it was in use, was a maze of wires, motors, computers, sensors and remote controls. According to the museum label, this particular machine “was set to work in the eastern tube: from Bodio to Sedrun,” in other words it started at the south end and worked its way north, drilling through “almost 25 kilometers of rock, thereby transporting an excavation volume of 1.7 million cubic meters out of the mountain.”
The other three tunnel boring machines also had women’s names: ‘Heidi’ drilled the other tube starting at the south end, while ‘Gabi I’ and ‘Gabi II’ drilled the two tubes starting from the north end.
In the museum courtyard, they have installed a full-scale mock-up of a tunnel section of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, showing how the rails are bolted to the tunnel floor, and how the electric wires are strung from the ceiling.
Inside the Transport Museum we can see a long model of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, showing how high the mountains are above the tunnel (2,300 meters at the highest point) and the different kinds of rock it goes through, with samples of the different rocks on display. Every few kilometers there is a photo, showing (for example) places where trains can be switched over from one tunnel to the other, or places where passengers can be evacuated in case of emergency.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel went into operation in 2016, and is now the main north-south route for trains through the Swiss Alps, for instance from Frankfurt to Milan.
This is the second railway tunnel to be built through the Gotthard Massif; the first, dating from 1882, is higher and shorter, but is still in use for regional trains.
Before the tunnels were built, the only way to cross this part of the Alps was through the Gotthard Pass at an altitude of 2,186 meters. The day before my visit to the Transport Museum, I had been to the Richard Wagner Museum on the other side of Lake Lucerne and read about Wagner’s journey over the Gotthard Pass in an open sleigh during a snowstorm in 1858.
At the south end of the model, there is a mock-up of the front end of the new high-speed Giruno trains, made especially for use in the Gotthard Base Tunnel by the Swiss manufacturing company Stadler Rail. Incongruously, some railway cars from a century earlier are parked directly behind it on the same track.
My photos and text in this post are from 2022.