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Gotthard railroad

Traveling the Gotthard route is always amazing. Whether you're using your car or the train, you'll be impressed by all those bridges, tunnels, railway lines, roads, towering mountains, rivers, avalanche protections, lovely hamlets...

The roads over and through Gotthard are remarkable. Looking back in Airolo to the Gotthard massif the scars in the environment may hurt, on the other side, the road connections were and still are important and impressive.

After intense discussions and a lot of lobbying, in 1866 the construction of a railway line was decided. 

After treaties with the neighbors in Germany and Italy, the work began in 1873. 1882 the line was opened between Immensee (Kanton Zug) and Chiasso. Because costs were massively higher then estimated, renegotiations between the Swiss, the German and the Italian financiers were necessary and some lines had to be reduced from double track to single.
Shortly after commencing the traffic, the whole line was modernized, electrified and all the way upgraded to double track. 1920 Electricity was produced by hydro electric power plants in Piotta with water from Ritomsee and Amsteg with water from Pfaffensprung (below Wassen). Already in 1922 trains between Luzern and Chiasso run on electric power.

The design of tracks, bridges and tunnels needed a lot of engineering skill, some hard negotiations, international agreements. Technically, at the time of construction of the railway line, many things have never been done before. 
The main tunnel was the longest ever built. In order to keep the slope below the acceptable 3 %, helical tunnels  (360 tunnels with 300m radius and 3% gradient) were built. The diagram below shows that the ascent from Erstfeld to Goeschenen is about 630 m over a distance of about 19 km. From Airolo to Biasca it's a descent of 800 m on a distance of 36 km.
177 workers lost their life (most of them were Italians). Near the Airolo railway station there is a memorial. 

Presently project NEAT is under way: a new fast-train line, where the major chunk is a new train tunnel of 50 km length between Bodio and Amsteg, reducing the need for climbing up and down the mountain considerably.

Since December 2016 the tunnel between Amsteg and Bodio is in operation. Passenger-Trains are passing the hole in less then twenty Minutes at a speed of 200 kmh. Freight-trains run at 100 kmh.

The good News is, that the old Line with the Gotthard Tunnel Goeschenen-Airolo is still in operation. Presently, in Erstfeld one has to change trains.

The next important milestone will be the Monte Ceneri tunnel (opening in 2020). Then Switzerland will have a "flat-trail-route" from Basel down to Chiasso.
On the Italian side, the project towards Genoa is under way. In a few years, there will be a European Flat-Railway-Line from Rotterdam to Genoa.


Altitude profile



The dotted line between Erstfeld and Bodio shows the new tunnel, (now under construction) of the NEAT (Neue Eisenbahn Alpen Transversale) Base tunnel. 

Literature: Here is a great book covering the development of the many railways in Switzerland:
Bahn Saga Schweiz: 150 Jahre Schweizer Bahnen, Silva Verlag


Along this remarkable route there are lots of other things to explore, e.g.:
Amsteg: This hydro electric power plant is delivering electricity for decades of years. 
Intschi: A cable car leads up to idyllic lake Arnisee with some pleasant hiking paths. (bus from Fluelen).
Wassen: The "pretty little church" is probably world known (fact is, it's a fairly large church). Three times it will catch your eyes. At first it can be seen high up. Then in a 360 tunnel the train changes the direction and is driving back towards Erstfeld. The church appears now about level with the railway track. But then the train changes direction again in another helical tunnel and after that, the church will appear far below. 
Wassen is an important crossroad as well. Here is the turnoff for Sustenpass to the Berner Oberland
Goeschenen: Here are the entrances for the two tunnels for the road and the trains. The Schoellenenbahn (cogwheel), as part of the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn ascends in a breathtaking manner up to Andermatt. The train has to share the narrow space with the pass road and a exuberant Reuss river. The old path is being used by hikers. 
From Goeschenen a bus line runs through beautiful Goeschenertal up to Goescheneralp with lake and hiking paths.
Two other attractions are along the main road from Goeschenen to Andermatt: The Teufelsbruecke and the Suworow memorial. Both can be seen from the train (to the left, when ascending) for a very short time.
Airolo: Here is the turnoff for the road over Nufenenpass to Goms and Wallis. From Airolo there are lots of hiking paths, see Strada alta
Ambri-Piotta: A steep funicular runs up to Ritomsee and its many hiking tracks. A combination: Airolo, along strada alta until Brugnasca and up to the lake.


Teufelsstein: (Devils stone) According to a saga, when the first bow bridge (Teufelsbruecke) over the raging river Reuss was built, the locals asked the devil for help. He agreed to build the bridge but as a compensation he was to receive the first soul crossing the new bridge. The deal was accepted. But the smart locals had no intention of delivering one of there souls into the hands of the devil. So, as a first soul, they pushed a goat over the new bridge. The devil, cheated of his promised  (human) soul got mad and smashed a giant rock towards the bridge where it stuck until lately.
The rock had to be moved out of the way of the new Autobahn track, but because of strong emotions nobody dared to blow the thing off. The stone is still sometimes used for protests against "traffic nonsense".

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