Swiss Tunnel Congress 2016

The Swiss Tunnelling Society (STS/FGU) as part of the Swiss Engineers and Architects Association (SIA) staged the 15th Swiss Tunnel Congress at the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre from June 15 to 17, 2016.

Around 800 visitors took part in the lecture programme. The Swiss Tunnel Colloquium for students, young engineers and technicians on the previous day attracted 400 participants, making the 15th Swiss Tunnel Congress (STC) the one to have attracted the largest attendance figure. Once again the STC presented a trade fair parallel to the lecture series and things wound up with excursions, which took in current tunnelling projects in Switzerland.

Gotthard Base Tunnel

On the occasion of the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) on June 1, there was a reason to celebrate within the scope of the STC. “The recognition, which Europe has given to our structure of the century, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, is overwhelming”, stated Luzi Gruber, the STS president, who handed over the scepter to his successor Stefan Maurhofer at the end of the Congress. “If you were able to experience the appreciation expressed by the politicians at the opening ceremony close up at personal level, it really got under your skin. We were very much at one with our praise:
a high standard, utmost quality and, first and foremost, on schedule and within budget”.

Moritz Leuenberger, Swiss federal councillor from 1995 to 2010, presented the opening paper on the significance of the GBT for Switzerland and Europe. During his period in office, the referenda on the New Alpine Rail Links, how to finance them and the bilateral transport agreement with the EU took place. “This year, we’re celebrating the world’s longest railway tunnel, and we’re doing so with great delight”, Leuenberger said. “It wasn’t about a world record; inherent objectives were at stake, namely to improve national solidarity. The aim was to link up the Italian part of Switzerland in a better way with the German-speaking part. It was aimed at a sustainable transport policy. And it was also aimed at providing a contribution to transport policy in Europe”.

According to Leuenberger, the tunnel is a masterpiece by engineers, tunnellers and designers. Furthermore, it is a work of direct democracy: “Whoever has helped shape his own political convictions in a vote regards such an infrastructure as his own. It wasn’t just set in front of our noses instead we really wanted it so we also appreciate it”.

Dr. Renzo Simoni, CEO of the AlpTransit Gotthard AG since 2007, provided the experts present with a detailed insight of what still has to be accomplished until commissioning. For until the trains run through the GBT at the end of 2016 according to schedule, all systems have to be thoroughly tested, test runs carried out and personnel trained. The government will only give the green light for operating services once the commissioning phase has been successfully completed.

Tunnellling Projects in Switzerland and international Tunnelling

The Congress dealt with the presentation and analysis of national and international underground construction projects as well as current technical developments in 12 further papers. Among others, Christian Zimmermann from the Ulrich Imboden AG, reported on the Visp south bypass in the Swiss Canton of Valais – a complex project, which calls for special provisions for drill+blast owing to difficult rock mechanical predictions.

From Sweden, Bo Larsson on behalt of the Swedish Transport Administration presented the “West Link” project – a rail tunnel below the centre of Gothenburg, which is intended to improve commuter transport capacity as from 2026 with three new stations. In this connection, the route crosses areas, which involve geotechnical, hydrogeological and technical challenges with regard to protecting the environment and existing buildings.

Further lectures dealt with the construction of the Eurasia Tunnel in Istanbul (winner of the 2015 ITA Award in the major projects category), the major French Grand Paris Express project with 200 km automatic metro lines almost completely underground, or also the German Rastatt Tunnel on the upgraded Karlsruhe–Basle route, which is a key project for the European rail freight corridor A, quite apart from being an official Building Information Modeling pilot project by the German Ministry of Transport. Tunnelling began in May 2016 and foresees ground freezing being used for three sections as auxiliary construction measures.


The Colloquium was devoted to the topic of “Fire and Safety in Rail and Road Tunnels”. Christoph Schneider from the Swiss Federal Office of Transport (FOT) examined safety aspects seen from the approval authority’s viewpoint and referred to target conflicts, which result from conflicting incident ventilation objectives on the one hand and rescue objectives on the other.

Incident ventilation was dealt with at length in two separate lectures for road tunnels (Dr. Marco Bettelini, Samuel Rigert; Amberg Engineering) and underground rail facilities (Dr. Severin Wälchil and Jens Badde; Pöyry Schweiz) as key components in the safety chain.

The topic of evacuation routes also drew attention. Apart from optical guide lights on the shoulders of road tunnels, Yves Rödiger from the Gifas-Electric GmbH for instance examined lighting systems for safety handrails for minimum lighting of escapeways in rail tunnels. Urs Kummer from the International Fire Academy lectured on the setting up of optimal requirements for emergency services in the event of tunnel fires, which must be created jointly by all those involved in designing, building and operating tunnels.


A complete insight into the wide range of topics at the 2016 STC, can be obtained from the Proceedings, which contains complete versions of all the papers presented:

Swiss Tunnel Congress 2016,

Congress for Underground Construction, Vol. 15,

240 pp. with numerous Ills. and Refs.,


ISBN 978-3-033-05486-8, bound, priced 120 CHF (Memory Stick: 50 CHF),  available from the Secretariat of the Swiss Tunnelling Society or from the online shop at $(LEhttp://


The next Swiss Tunnel Congress 2017 will be held in Lucerne from May 30 to June 1, 2017.

Marvin Klostermeier


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