Alps rail link runs two billion francs over budget

Some are concerned that cash is being squandered on the ambitious rail tunnel project Keystone

The construction of two transalpine railway tunnels in Switzerland is set to run more than SFr2 billion ($1.6 billion) over budget.

This content was published on March 30, 2004 minutes

The transport ministry said on Tuesday that the total cost of the project was now likely to reach SFr15.8 billion.

Officials presented their final calculations after conducting a detailed evaluation of the huge tunnel project, which is due to be completed by 2015.

The ministry said the extra costs were due to improved safety installations and geological problems encountered during the construction of the Gotthard and Lötschberg tunnels in canton Bern.

It added that developments in railway technology had also boosted the cost of the project.

No squandering

Peter Testoni, vice-director at the transport ministry, dismissed allegations that cash was being squandered, saying a hike in costs was normal for such a large-scale construction.

“We can’t stress this point enough: [the project to upgrade Switzerland’s rail network] is an investment into the country’s future,” he said. “We are building for the next 100 years.”

The original budget for the two tunnels was set at SFr13.6 billion, but since then costs have spiralled.

The government requested an additional sum of SFr900 million in September, but now an extra SFr800 million is needed to complete the transalpine rail link.

The transport ministry said it had been surprised by the jump in costs and had conducted the report to find out why.

On track

The ministry maintained that the project was still on track despite concerns that it was running over budget.

It pointed out that 93 per cent of the Lötschberg tunnel had been excavated and all the galleries, shafts and tunnels are expected to be dug by the end of the year. The tunnel is scheduled for completion in 2007.

Almost 30 per cent of the new Gotthard rail tunnel has been excavated. When completed in 2015, it will be the world’s longest rail tunnel, at 57 kilometres.

Out of control

But politicians from both the Left and Right have complained about the rising costs.

“The costs of the projects are spiralling out of control,” warned Yves Bichsel, spokesman for the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

“The government… must clearly show what is essential and what can be dropped. The new funding must last; they can’t ask for more credit every two weeks.”

The centre-right Radical Party said it was opposed to any more credit being granted, saying new figures were appearing all the time.

Meanwhile, the centre-left Social Democrats feared other major projects would have to be shelved in order to complete the construction of the tunnels.

The cabinet is due to discuss the project’s budget next month.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

September 1992: the Swiss approve the transalpine rail tunnel projects.
November 1998: the Swiss approve a budget of SFr13.6 billion for the projects.
December 1999: parliament accepts only SFr12.6 billion.
July 2001: the government approves total funding to SFr14.7 billion.
September 2003: the government asks parliament to give the green light to a further SFr900 million in funding.
February 2004: a parliamentary committee says an additional SFr700 million is required, bringing the total amount to SFr15.5 billion.
March 2004: the transport ministry says the final cost is likely to be nearer SFr15.8 billion.

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