Going hard for the Gotthard Tunnel Monday, 13 June 2016

News article written by Corbett Communications. The statements made or opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Engineers Australia.


Deemed the “project of the century”, the Gotthard Base Tunnel has opened after 17 years' construction. Starting from multiple sites simultaneously, it required a multitude of engineers and software to see it through to completion and operation. The 57 kilometre tunnel runs under the Swiss Alps and links Switzerland with Europe’s high-speed rail networks. 

It is not only the world’s longest tunnel but the deepest rail tunnel and is set to run train services travelling at up to 250 km an hour from December. The tunnel was first proposed in 1947 by Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner and his dream was eventually completed on time albeit 69 years later and within its AU$16 billion budget. 

While civil engineering played a major part in its construction, it couldn’t have been done so successfully without the aid of software systems and the engineers who designed them. Here is just a sample of some that were involved. 

Contractor, Transtec Gotthard, used Project Office to control and monitor the entire project that would have a planned service life of more than 40 years and its vast work breakdown structure with over 100,000 items. Sub-contracting partner Arge 16.7 Hz, a JV between Balfour Beatty Rail and Kummoler+Matter, was responsible for planning, constructing and commissioning the overhead railway lines used CIM Database as the central repository for materials requirements planning and predictive stock management, daily planning of construction activities and progress monitoring.

Gähler und Partner AG from Ennetbaden in Switzerland, revealed that to optimise the use of concrete (and therefore the costs), engineers developed a system of size-adjustable formwork elements. The determination of the individual formwork geometry was carried out using Nemetschek Group’s design and implementation software, Allplan Engineering. A digital surface survey, which showed the precise location of the securing structure for the tunnelling work, was read into Allplan and stored with the normal standard profiles. Then, taking into account the minimum component dimensions and the geometrical peripheral conditions from the operational section, the ideal formwork configuration was worked out.

For standard planning work, Gähler and Partner prepared plan views, sectional views, and other details in 2D mode but at complex points, or in order to illustrate problem areas, the engineers used 3D planning and worked with visualisations. This meant that a geometric test could be conducted to determine whether there was sufficient space, whether arch and vaulting thicknesses and strength values and clearance values were correct and whether it was possible to run cable ducts in desired locations.

Siemens Switzerland sub-contractor, Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure integrated its I/CAD within the Gotthard Base Tunnel's two Tunnel Control Systems at the north and south portals respectively to control and monitor all the tunnel's electrical systems.

An essential part of these is emergency handling in terms of monitoring emergency procedures and informing the operator in case procedures are not initiated automatically and correctly. I/CAD is the key system for the management of events, such as trains stuck in the tunnels, fires in the tunnels, incidents on track construction sites or extreme weather events affecting the infrastructure.

In the case of an incident, the system will provide operating personnel with checklists, situation plans and instructions to schedule and mobilise intervention teams and monitor the area.