Gotthard Road Tunnel

The Gotthard Road 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 St Gotthard Pass, a major pass of the Alps. At time of construction, in 1980, it was the longest road tunnel in the world; it is currently the fifth-longest.[2] Although it is a motorway tunnel, part of the A2 from Basel to Chiasso, it consists of only one bidirectional tube with two lanes. With a maximum elevation of 1,175 metres (3,855 ft)[3] at the tunnel's highest point, the A2 motorway has the lowest maximum elevation of any direct north-south road through the Alps.[4]

Gotthard Road Tunnel
Gotthard Road Tunnel Switzerland.jpg
The south entrance of Gotthard Road Tunnel
Coordinates46°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
StartGöschenen, Uri (north)
EndAirolo, Ticino (south)
Constructed5 May 1970 (1970-05-05)
Opened5 September 1980 (1980-09-05)
OwnerSwiss Confederation
OperatorAmt für Betrieb der Nationalstrassen of the cantons of Uri, Ticino, Nidwalden, and Schwyz
Tollnone (included in the mandatory Vignette)
Vehicles per day17354 (2014)[1]
Length16.9 kilometres (10.5 mi)
No. of lanes2
Operating speed80 km/h (50 mph)
Highest elevation1,175 m (3,855 ft)
(inside the tunnel)
Lowest elevation1,080 m (3,540 ft)
(north portal)

The tunnel rises from the northern portal at Göschenen (1,080 m (3,540 ft)) and the culminating point is reached after approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi). After two or three more kilometres, the border between the cantons of Uri and Ticino is passed; after another 7 kilometres (4.3 mi), the tunnel ends at the southern portal near to Airolo (1,146 m (3,760 ft)). The journey takes about 13 minutes by car, the maximum speed being 80 km/h.

The Gotthard Road Tunnel is one of the three tunnels that connect the Swiss Plateau to southern Switzerland and run under the Gotthard Massif, the two other being railway tunnels, the Gotthard Tunnel (1882) and the Gotthard Base Tunnel (2016). All three tunnels bypass the Gotthard Pass, an important trade route since the 13th century. The pass road culminates about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) above the tunnel, at a height of 2,106 metres (6,909 ft), and is only passable in summer.


In response to the automobile boom in Switzerland and other things, the Swiss government gave approval in July 1969 for the construction of the 17-kilometre (11 mi) Gotthard Road tunnel. The tunnel would be longer than any existing road tunnel, and would provide a year-round road link from the Swiss Plateau to southern Switzerland, and from northern to southern Europe as well, to be used in place of the Gotthard Pass.[5] The tunnel was built roughly parallel to the old railway tunnel, with portals a few hundred metres away from those of the railway. Prior to the opening of the tunnel, cars were transported through the nearby railway tunnel on car shuttle trains. Following the catastrophic fire in the road tunnel in 2001, car shuttle trains resumed operations for a few weeks.

The 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 (33 and 59 ft) 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.[5]

In March 2014, the Swiss Government approved a bill to allow the building of a second road tunnel. Construction is scheduled to start in 2020, with the cost estimated at almost CHF 3 billion.[6]

2001 collision and fireEdit

On 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.)[7][8] 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.[9] The tunnel was closed for two months after the accident for repair and cleaning, reopening 21 December 2001.[10]

To improve safety after the fire, no more than 150 trucks per hour are allowed to enter the tunnel.[7]

Rail tunnelsEdit

The Gotthard Rail Tunnel, close but separate from the expressway tunnel, handles rail traffic on the north-south line in Switzerland. It was opened in 1882. In this category 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 opened on 1 June 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (a second rail tunnel, 57 km [35 mi] long), is the world's longest. It was built for the use of trains travelling from northern Switzerland to the Ticino area and beyond.[11]

Road conditionsEdit

Inside the Gotthard Road Tunnel

The Gotthard Tunnel is the core and culminating point 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 one lane. The tunnel's speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph).

Heavily used, the tunnel often has traffic jams during peak holiday seasons over Easter and summer, on both the north and south ends. In contrast, another tunnel through the Alps, the San Bernardino road tunnel as part of the A13 in the canton of Graubünden further east, is relatively uncongested and shorter.

Another point of note, that even in winter, the inside temperature of the tunnel can reach 38 °C (100 °F) while travelling through it.[citation needed]

Second road tunnel proposalsEdit

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. 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%).[12]

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.[13] 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 was chosen as the best option to allow for the reconstruction. Further usage of both tunnels was subject to a popular referendum that was held in February 2016, where it was approved. 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.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Verkehrsentwicklung am Gotthard-Strassentunnel" (in German, French, and Italian). ASTRA – Swiss Federal Roads Office. 2015. Archived from the original on 17 April 2016. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  2. ^ After Norway's Lærdal Tunnel 24.5 km (15.2 mi), Japan's Yamate Tunnel, and China's Zhongnanshan Tunnel 18 km (11 mi).
  3. ^ Der Tiefbau, Volume 14 (1974)
  4. ^ The other direct north-south roads through the Alps with similar elevations are: Fréjus Road Tunnel (>1,297 m), Mont Blanc Tunnel (1,395 m) and Brenner Pass (1,370 m)
  5. ^ a b "News and Views: Gotthard Road Tunnel". Autocar. Vol. 131 no. 3843. 31 July 1969. p. 29.
  6. ^ Geiser, Urs (24 September 2014). "Second Gotthard road tunnel given green light". Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Gotthard-Strassentunnel ist sicherer geworden – SWI". (in German). Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  8. ^ Jorio, Luigi (20 October 2011). "Gotthard tunnel safer ten years after inferno – SWI". Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning". Patient. 23 July 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  10. ^ "chronik". Archived from the original on 12 June 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  11. ^ Bilger, Burkhard (15 September 2008). "The Long Dig: Getting through the Swiss Alps the hard way". The New Yorker.
  12. ^ Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, History, accessed 5 September 2007.
  13. ^ "Gotthard II: an extra tunnel but no new traffic". 16 September 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Bundesrat will zweite Röhre für Gotthard-Strassentunnel". SF Schweizer Fernsehen. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 27 June 2012.

External linksEdit

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)