Gotthard Tunnel

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Not to be confused with Gotthard Road Tunnel or Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Entry to the Gotthard Rail Tunnel at Göschenen
Entry to the Gotthard Rail Tunnel at Airolo
Workers in Airolo (1880)
Pneumatic locomotive with attached pressure container.[1]
Memorial for the dead workers

The Gotthard Tunnel (German: Gotthardtunnel, Italian: Galleria del San Gottardo) is a 15.003 km (9.322 mi) long 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.[2]

The tunnel rises from the northern portal at Göschenen (1106 metres / 3650 ft) and the highest point (1151 metres, or 3800 ft) is reached after approximately 8 kilometres (5 mi). After two more kilometers, the border between the cantons of Uri and Ticino is passed; after another 5 kilometres (3 mi), the tunnel ends at the southern portal near to Airolo (1142 metres, or 3770 ft). The trip takes about seven to eight minutes by train. Services are operated by the Swiss Federal Railways.


In 1871 under the stewardship of the Swiss industrialist Alfred Escher, who created the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt in 1856, the Gotthard Railway Company was founded. Despite initial difficulties to finance the project, and resulting costs of about 11% over budget, the financing was shared among private and public investors from Switzerland (20M CHF), Italy (45M CHF) and the German Reich (20M CHF). The bidding war between an engineering company from Geneva and Italy was fought viciously, and finally, the Swiss engineer Louis Favre won the project with an estimated cost of 2830 CHF per meter. Because of his low bid, and the extra costs during construction, Favre increasingly found himself at odds with Swiss politicians and investors alike.[3]


The tunnel was built from 1871 to 1881 and marked the first large-scale use of dynamite, patented in 1867. Construction was surveyed by the Swiss engineer Louis Favre, who suffered a fatal heart attack inside the tunnel in 1879. Construction was difficult due to financial, technical and geological issues, the last leading to the death of around 200 workers (the exact number is not known) mainly due to water inrushes; many were also killed by the compressed air-driven trains carrying excavated material out of the tunnel. There were also serious health issues caused by an epidemic of hookworm infection (Ancylostoma duodenale).[4][5][6] Medical investigations led to "major advances in parasitology, by way of research into the aetiology, epidemiology and treatment of ancylostomiasis".[5] A strike of the workers in 1875 was crushed by the Swiss Army, killing four and wounding 13.

There is a memorial for the dead workers near the station building at Airolo, created by the artist Vincenzo Vela.


The tunnel was opened for traffic in 1882, operated by the private railway company Gotthardbahn, which ran from Lucerne to Chiasso at the Italian border. The Gotthardbahn was integrated into the Swiss Federal Railways in 1909. In 1920, the first electric trains were run through the Gotthard Tunnel. Initially the voltage had to be reduced from the desired 15 kilovolts to 7.5 kV, because the grime deposited on the insulators by the steam locomotives encouraged excessive arcing. However, in May the next year, steam was replaced entirely by electric traction, and the problem of soot and grime was eliminated.[7]

Until the opening of the Gotthard Road Tunnel, the Swiss Federal Railways offered piggyback services for cars and trucks through the Gotthard Tunnel. Today, that service exists as the rolling highway from the German to the Italian border and aims to reduce truck traffic on Swiss expressways. An improvisational piggyback service from Göschenen to Airolo was offered during the two-month closure of the Gotthard Road Tunnel in 2001.

Neighbouring tunnels[edit]

The nearby Gotthard Road Tunnel was opened in 1980. A second railway tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, is currently under construction with completion now expected in 2016, having broken through in 2010.[8] The adjacent ramps include several turn tunnels (see Table of turn tunnels).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Braun, Adolphe: Photographische Ansichten der Gotthardbahn, Dornach im Elsass, ca. 1875
  2. ^ Eisenbahnatlas Schweiz. Verlag Schweers + Wall GmbH. 2012. p. 34. ISBN 978-3-89494-130-7. 
  3. ^ Tebart A (2013). Tunnelblick: 150 Jahre St. Gotthard (Technikgeschichte). Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  4. ^ E. Bugnion, "On the epidemic caused by Ankylostomum among the eorkmen in the St. Gothard Tunnel", British Medical Journal, volume 1, page 382, 1881.
  5. ^ a b R. Peduzzi and J.-C. Piffaretti, "Ancylostoma duodenale and the Saint Gothard anaemia", British Medical Journal, volume 287, pages 1942–1945, 1983.
  6. ^ Bibliography of Hookworm Disease
  7. ^ Book: "Die Bahn durch den Gotthard"
  8. ^ BBC News - Swiss complete world's longest tunnel

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°35′44″N 8°35′44″E / 46.59556°N 8.59556°E / 46.59556; 8.59556