The New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) serving Europe

The NRLA is the biggest construction project that Switzerland has ever undertaken in its history. It comprises the Lötschberg Base Tunnel (34.6 km), the Gotthard Base Tunnel (57.1 km – the longest railway tunnel in the world) and the Ceneri Base Tunnel (15.4 km). With the opening of the Ceneri tunnel in 2020, Switzerland completed the final key element of the rail freight corridor stretching from Rotterdam to Genoa.

View of the north entrance of the Gotthard Base Tunnel at Erstfeld in the canton of Uri.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel extends from Erstfeld in the canton of Uri in the north (photo) to Bodio in the canton of Ticino in the south. © AlpTransit Gotthard AG

The rail corridor between Rotterdam/Antwerp and Genoa is one of Europe's main freight routes. Switzerland is situated right in the middle of it. The 2,500 kilometre-long north-south link connects many of Europe's booming economic regions, including the hubs of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Duisburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Basel, Zurich, Milan and Genoa. In bringing northern and southern Europe closer together through the completion of the NRLA, Switzerland is making a substantial contribution to European transport policy.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel – a record-breaking project

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the jewel in the crown of the NRLA. With a total cost of CHF 12.2 billion, it took 70 years of work and 17 years of construction. In 2020 it was the longest rail tunnel in the world, linking the cantons of Ticino and Uri. The section of line through the Gotthard Base Tunnel is around 30 kilometres shorter than the previous line that ran over the mountain and has enabled capacity to be increased. The new route can handle up to 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains each day, travelling at speeds of up to 250 km/h. Capacity was restricted to a maximum of 180 freight trains per day on the previous line.

Sustainable transport for Europe

Since the 1980s, Switzerland has been committed to a sustainable transport policy with the priority of shifting transalpine freight traffic from road to rail. The construction of the NRLA was approved by the Swiss electorate in 1992 by a clear majority, demonstrating their commitment to working for the protection of the Alpine regions and contributing to the sustainable management of the flow of goods in Europe. The country has invested some CHF 22.8 billion (EUR 21.5 billion) in the construction of the NRLA, which corresponds to almost 3.5% of its GDP. Switzerland is thus making a considerable contribution to European transport policy and is working to bring Europe closer together.

Reliability and speed

The low gradient means that trains no longer require an additional locomotive on the Gotthard route, saving time and money. The NRLA also allows longer, heavier trains to operate, which means more freight trains can cross the Alps faster, and with fewer locomotives. Travellers also enjoy shorter journey times and more connections in Switzerland and in the rest of Europe. As a result, rail traffic is becoming more efficient and reliable, thereby strengthening the EU's single market.