Gotthard Road Tunnel

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This article is about the motorway tunnel. For the railway tunnels, see Gotthard Rail Tunnel and Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Gotthard Road Tunnel
Gotthard Road Tunnel Switzerland.jpg
The south entrance of Gotthard Road Tunnel
Location Switzerland
Coordinates 46°40′18″N 8°35′33″E / 46.67167°N 8.59250°E / 46.67167; 8.59250Coordinates: 46°40′18″N 8°35′33″E / 46.67167°N 8.59250°E / 46.67167; 8.59250
Route Göschenen, UriAirolo, Ticino
Opened September 5, 1980 (1980-09-05)
Length 16.9 kilometres (10.5 mi)
Number of lanes 2

The Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland runs from Göschenen in the Canton of Uri at its northern portal, to Airolo in Ticino to the south, and is 16.9 kilometres (10.5 mi) in length below the Gotthard Pass. It is the fourth-longest road tunnel in the world after Norway's Lærdal Tunnel (24.5 km), Japan's Yamate Tunnel, and China's Zhongnanshan Tunnel (18 km).


In response to the automobile boom in Switzerland and other things, the Swiss government gave approval in July 1969 for the construction of the 16-kilometre Gotthard Road tunnel. The tunnel would be longer than any existing road tunnel, and would provide a year-round road link between central Switzerland and Milan to be used in place of the Gotthard Pass.[1]

The now widely used motorway tunnel was opened on 5 September 1980. It remains a single bore tunnel with just one lane operating in each direction. It has four large ventilation shafts and an additional side gallery between 10 and 18 metres from the main tunnel, having its own independent ventilation system in order to facilitate the cutting of a second tunnel, should future traffic levels require it.[1]

In March 2014, the Swiss Government approved a bill that will allow the building of a second road tunnel. The building is scheduled to start in 2020, with the cost estimated at almost $3 billion.[2] There is no reference to a toll.

2001 collision and fire[edit]

On Wednesday 24 October 2001 a collision of two trucks created a fire in the tunnel, killing eleven and injuring many more, the smoke and gases produced by the fires being the main cause of death. Despite reports that petrol was the cause of the fire, the truck that was hit was a diesel truck. Its driver, Bruno Saba, who survived the fire, kept on driving as he was afraid his diesel might catch fire. (Confusion over whether petrol or diesel was in the truck that was hit stems from a mistranslation of the word "diesel" in the English version of the original article in German.)[3][4] The effects of even small fires in a confined space like a tunnel are extremely serious because of the inability of gases and heat to disperse. For instance, carbon monoxide is highly toxic at very low concentrations; having this trapped in a confined space allows concentrations to build well beyond a fatal level. Carbon monoxide can trigger a clinical response at a level as low as 100 parts per million.[5] The tunnel was closed for two months after the accident for repair and cleaning, reopening 21 December 2001.[6]

Rail tunnels[edit]

The Gotthard Rail Tunnel, close but separate from the expressway tunnel, handles rail traffic on the north-south line in Switzerland. It was opened 1882. In this category, however, it is no longer the record-holder. The Seikan Tunnel in Japan and the Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France are both in excess of 50 km (31 mi).

Under construction since 2002 and projected open in late 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (a second rail tunnel, 57 km long), will be the world's longest. It is being built for the use of trains travelling from northern Switzerland to the Ticino area and beyond.[7]

Road conditions[edit]

The announcement in the tunnel radio
Inside the Gotthard Road Tunnel

The Gotthard Tunnel forms part of the A2 motorway in Switzerland, running south from Basel through the tunnel down to Chiasso on the border with Italy. Traffic flows through only one tunnel, which carries traffic both ways, with each direction allocated only one lane. The tunnel's speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph).

Heavily used, the tunnel often has traffic jams, on both the north and south ends. In contrast, another tunnel through the Alps, the San Bernardino road tunnel in the canton of Graubünden further east, is relatively uncongested and shorter, but the road taken on that expressway is longer than the direct route through the Gotthard Tunnel.

In the tunnel, a distance of 150 m (490 ft) between each truck is enforced.

Second road tunnel proposals[edit]

Construction on a second, parallel road tunnel was started. In first instance it was only built for safety: an escape route in case of accidents. This second tunnel can be built out to a full road tunnel, allowing four lanes of traffic. Efforts to do this have failed, blocked by political resistance. The Alpine Initiative "for the protection of the Alpine region from transit traffic", which raised barriers against road tunnel construction, was initially blocked by the Swiss Parliament. However, a February 1994 Alpine Initiative passed (with 52% of the vote), and Parliament upheld the referendum twice through the 1990s. The pro-tunnel Avanti Initiative brought a referendum to voters in February 2004, which was rejected (by 62.8%).[8]

The Swiss government has decided to upgrade the second tunnel into a full road tunnel in order to allow for the necessary reconstruction of the first road tunnel. Once the works on the first tunnel are finished, the Swiss government plans to operate one single lane in each tunnel (northbound traffic in the newly constructed tunnel, southbound traffic in the renovated one) in order to maintain the current tunnel overall capacity, in compliance with the Swiss constitutional norm that forbids a further growth of the traffic capacity across the Alps.[9] The reconstruction would have lasted for several years in any variant – one variant would push the traffic over the mountain pass, another proposed to load the vehicles onto trains with a new terminal, a third would close the tunnel for several months every year over time range of a decade. All of these have their drawbacks and the usage of the second tunnel is seen as the best option[by whom?] to allow for the reconstruction. Further usage of both tunnels is subject to a popular referendum that will be held in February 2016. The actual upgrade mining of the second road tunnel would last from 2020 to 2027 at a cost of 2.7 billion Francs for the whole project including the following reconstruction of the first tunnel.[10]


  1. ^ a b "News and Views: Gotthard Road Tunnel". Autocar 131 (3843): 29. 31 July 1969. 
  2. ^ Geiser, Urs (2014-09-24). "Second Gotthard road tunnel given green light - SWI". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  3. ^ "Gotthard-Strassentunnel ist sicherer geworden - SWI". (in (German)). Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  4. ^ Jorio, Luigi (2011-10-20). "Gotthard tunnel safer ten years after inferno - SWI". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  5. ^ "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Free information. Patient | Patient". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  6. ^ "chronik". Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  7. ^ Bilger, Burkhard, "The Long Dig: Getting through the Swiss Alps the hard way", The New Yorker, September 15, 2008
  8. ^, History, accessed 2007-09-05.
  9. ^ "Gotthard II: an extra tunnel but no new traffic.". 2013-09-16. Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  10. ^ "Bundesrat will zweite Röhre für Gotthard-Strassentunnel". SF Schweizer Fernsehen. 2012-06-27. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Arlberg Road Tunnel
13.98 km (8.69 mi)
World's longest road tunnel
Succeeded by
Lærdal Tunnel
24.51 km (15.23 mi)