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Wiring the double-track rail link through the Alps

With the Gotthard Base Tunnel already in operation, the railway industry and railway aficionados across Europe look forward to the completion of the construction works on the two tubes through Monte Ceneri.


Headquartered in Austria, Europten was founded more than 98 years ago. The company has been using Plasser & Theurer machines – since the early 80s, when the first motorised vehicles from the MTW series were produced. Today, Europten works with the best catenary renewal and installation machines available on the market, such as Plasser & Theurer’s MTW 100.216 or the HTW 100 E³ with hybrid drive.

The project of the century, the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), is about to be successfully completed. EUROPTEN, an expert in catenary construction, has been working in the 15-kilometre Ceneri Base Tunnel since February 2018. For the installation of the overhead conductor rails, around 60,000 holes must be drilled. They are needed for 4,500 anchors, the entire railway earthing system and the wiring technology (16.7 Hz). Alone the contact line material amounts to 1,000 tonnes. Supplying, depositing, loading and installing: two teams of 9 people each work in 2-shift operation. All work is precisely scheduled. Due to the length of the tunnel, the logistics must be perfectly organised. Quickly fetching a missing part or tool is not an option. At 06:00 in the morning, the first team enters the tunnel with equipment. At 22:30 at night, the construction crew leaves the tunnel. A shift change-over takes place at 14:30 via the second tube. The specially adapted assembly unit remains in the tunnel the entire time. The HTW 100 E³ tows it.

“The hybrid drive of the HTW increases the working comfort. It runs quietly and does not cause emissions in the tunnel”, explains Rudolf Wank, project manager. “In addition, the exact control of the machine’s working speed improves the installation quality.”

In March of 2020, the entire system will be put into operation for the first time. Outside the tunnel, a feeder line of more than 7 km needs to be electrified. The transition between slab track and ballasted track is a challenge to the overhead line system, explains Rudolf Wank. “The tolerances in the contact wire height are just millimetres. At the usual contact pressure of between 7 and 8 kg, the pantograph should not lose contact as this would lead to flying sparks and cause wear.

In the summer of 2020, SBB will start testing the electrified Ceneri Base Tunnel. Then, trains will be travelling straight through the Alps at up to 250 km/h.