San Gottardo, priority for freight trains in the tunnel to support Italian exports

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Priority to freight trains. The new timetable in force from tomorrow, 10 December 2023, will mark a turning point for the Gotthard base tunnel (Switzerland) and for commercial traffic along the international Rhine-Alps corridor, of which Italy represents the southern section. From Monday on Thursday all tracks (circulation permits) will be available for freight transport (cargo trains), while from Friday to Sunday both freight and passenger trains will circulate in the Swiss base tunnel.

The new traffic distribution

This traffic distribution, explain the Swiss Railways (SBB), is the result of a careful analysis of the needs of passenger and freight transport. This analysis became necessary following the restoration work on the west tunnel of the base tunnel, which was closed after the derailment of a freight train headed for Germany on 10 August. The reopening of the west tunnel is expected no earlier than September 2024. Therefore only the east tunnel track is currently in operation. The accident severely limited the overall capacity of the Swiss tunnel and caused serious damage to both railway companies and trade between the north and south of the continent. Now the decision to prioritize goods until the tunnel is completely restored is good news especially for Italy.

The increase in capacity

The Reno Alpi freight corridor (Genoa-Rotterdam) is a strategic axis both for Italian exports destined for the rich markets of Northern Europe and for supplies to the national industry. 17.9 million tonnes of goods pass through the Gotthard railway in import-export every year. At a time when there are no certainties about the reopening of the Frejus railway tunnel between Italy and France, closed since last August after a huge landslide in French territory and which could reopen only at the end of 2024, the increase in capacity , albeit partial, along the Gotthard axis constitutes a breath of fresh air for Italian companies. A situation that the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Edoardo Rixi comments like this: «On the Frejus we have a landslide that in Italy they would repair in four months and in France it takes more than a year. On Mont Blanc we have French opposition to the doubling of the tunnel which is completely irrational. So at the moment we are struggling (with the French government, ed), we communicate much better with the Swiss. Switzerland is becoming the main partner for us in crossing the Alps.”

The August derailment

After the derailment in August, on the Italian-Swiss section of the Alpine corridor there was a total closure of the railway for about fifteen days, then transit inside the base tunnel resumed but with notable limitations as it only takes place using one of the two tunnels of the tunnel, the one not involved in the derailment. Before the accident, more than 200 freight trains per day were circulating in both directions inside the Gotthard base tunnel. Now the daily transit capacity is around 100 freight trains per day.

The damage to Italian companies

According to an analysis by Andrea Giuricin, professor at the University of Milan Bicocca, the damage to Italian rail freight transport companies is around 15 million euros. For this reason, right from the start, Fermerci, the association that brings together some of the main operators in the sector (Mercitalia of the Fs Group, Medway of the MSC group, Hupac, Gts Rail, Rtc and Inrail of the Autobrennero group, Logtainer) had argued that opening the Gotthard traffic to passenger traffic would have been counterproductive.

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