The government of canton Graubünden has frozen its ambitious Porta Alpina project to build an underground station in the middle of the world's longest tunnel.
Despite a promise to contribute SFr20 million ($16.8 million) to the project, which would have included the longest lift in the world – 800 metres from top to bottom – the local authorities have said they now consider the risks too high.
The station was supposed to connect an isolated and economically depressed area of eastern Switzerland to the high-speed rail link passing through the 57-kilometre Gotthard tunnel, which is under construction.
The Graubünden government said on Thursday that the risks surrounding the technical, operational and especially financial aspects of Porta Alpina were too great.
It added that it reached its decision with the Surselva region and the commune of Tujetsch because the federal authorities had not given a clear signal to proceed and the Swiss Federal Railways had not agreed to the project either.
Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger said he regretted the decision.
Leuenberger neverthless hoped that the "bold vision" of Porta Alpina would become reality one day, after the Gotthard based tunnel comes into service.
The project had already been dealt a blow in May when the federal authorities decided not to approve any contribution before 2012, despite parliament having given the go-ahead in 2005 to funding worth SFr7.5 million to kick-start the plan.
The canton was not prepared to finance Porta Alpina alone since it would cost at least SFr50 million, said local minister Stefan Engler. Just to keep the project alive would cost SFr29 million by 2009.
The canton had no leeway in the matter. Graubünden voters approved the canton's SFr20 million credit only if federal funding was included in the project.
The federal authorities' decision to at best delay funding meant that the underground station would not open until at least three years after the tunnel, which itself is not expected to open before 2018.
The Federal Railways had shown little enthusiasm, saying that servicing the station would be problematic from an operational point of view and could cause delays.
Engler said there were no winners or losers, despite SFr15 million already being sunk into Porta Alpina. He added that he hoped that further down the line another generation of politicians would relaunch the project.
Engler pointed out that Porta Alpina, which was launched in 2000, was not dead and buried but plunged into what he called a deep sleep.
swissinfo with agencies
THE GOTTHARD - EUROPE'S ALPINE AXIS
An interactive presentation.end of infobox
The Gotthard base tunnel
With a length of 57 km, the new rail tunnel, part of the New Rail Links through the Alps project, will be the longest of its kind in the world.
On September 1, 2007, of the total of 153.5 km of tunnels, galleries and passages of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, 104.7 km or 68.2% had been excavated.
The Lötschberg base tunnel, which runs 34.6 km, was inaugurated on June 16. Total costs are around SFr4.3 billion.
When the two projects were started, the total cost of the two new lines was put at SFr14.7 billion. It's now estimated that it could exceed SFr24 billion.