World’s longest, deepest rail tunnel to close for months after freight derailment in the Swiss Alps

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An Italian train makes its way at the north entrance of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest train tunnel, on the eve of its opening ceremony on May 31, 2016 in Erstfeld.

Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | Getty Images

Swiss rail authorities said repairs to the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s deepest traffic tunnel and longest of its kind, will take several months after the extent of the damage from a recent freight service derailment was found to be “significantly greater” than initially estimated.

National railway operator SBB said Wednesday that 16 cars had jumped the tracks in last Thursday’s derailment and some badly damaged freight cars remain stuck inside the 57.1 kilometer (35.5 mile) long tunnel.

No one was injured in the accident, but investigations have since shown that the damage in the west tube was considerable. SBB estimates that it will take several month to replace the damaged railway parts. The project, which opened to enormous fanfare in 2016, took 17 years to complete and cost an estimated $12 billion.

Recognized as a feat of engineering and hailed as a “huge achievement,” the GBT is a vital thoroughfare for goods and cargo. The tunnel was created to increase local transport capacity through the Alpine barrier, ease road traffic and reduce air pollution.

“The Gotthard Base Tunnel is one of the safest in the world. We are shocked that an accident of this magnitude could occur. Luckily there were no injuries, but there was a lot of property damage,” SBB CEO Vincent Ducrot told reporters on Wednesday, according to a Google translation.

“We would like to apologize for this and ask for your understanding,” Ducrot said. The teams are working hard to restore safe rail traffic in the Gotthard Base Tunnel as soon as possible. The SBB acknowledged that the incident could cause “great inconvenience” to rail customers and passengers.