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Gotthard tunnel to reopen ahead of Christmas

The Gotthard's closure has put heavy pressure on other alpine routes Keystone Archive

The Gotthard tunnel is to reopen to all traffic on December 21, two months after a fire near the southern entrance killed 11 people.

This content was published on December 10, 2001 - 16:23

The Swiss president and transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, said on Monday that both cars and trucks would be able to use the tunnel, with certain restrictions.

He added that the measures would not differ dramatically from regulations in place before the fire on October 24.

Goods vehicles, for example, will only be allowed to travel in one direction and once inside the tunnel they will have to keep a distance of 150 metres from the vehicle in front. The flow of traffic will be alternated at regular intervals.

The decision was criticised as "premature" by the head of the cantonal government in Ticino, which is jointly responsible for administering the tunnel.

Speaking in the local parliament, Marco Borradori, said questions of safety had not yet been properly resolved properly, and nor had the issue of trans-alpine traffic.

He added that decision contradicted the advice of an expert commission set up in the wake of the fire, and that the government would have to take full responsibility for security in the tunnel.

San Bernardino pass

Leuenberger said the decision was taken in a bid to prevent potential accidents on Switzerland's other alpine passes, which will soon be covered in snow and ice, making driving conditions hazardous.

The reopening will also relieve pressure on the currently overloaded San Bernardino transalpine tunnel.

Leuenberger made the announcement during Monday's session of question time in parliament.

The Gotthard tunnel is the main north-south axis route through the Alps and was closed on October 24 after two trucks collided, sparking an inferno, and causing some structural damage.

Relief for freight companies

The Gotthard was used by an average of 19,000 vehicles a day and its closure added more gloom to trans-Alpine transport which was already badly affected by the closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel between northern Italy and France.

That tunnel, shut since 1999 after a crash which killed 40 people, is expected to reopen shortly for cars but no date has been set for a resumption of freight traffic.

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