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Swiss holiday traffic jams: it could have been worse

Traffic jam at the Gotthard tunnel, Switzerland
Traffic jam at the Gotthard tunnel, Switzerland KEYSTONE/© KEYSTONE / URS FLUEELER

Traffic jams caused chaos for Swiss holidaymakers over the weekend, but such queues are nothing compared to previous years and other countries.

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In front of the Gotthard tunnel, queues over the Pentecost weekend stretched for over 20 kilometres. For countless travelers, this meant driving at walking pace, stopping again and again and waiting for a very long time. But a look into the past shows that things can be much worse.

As a result of the closure of the San Bernardino Tunnel after a bus fire, there was a record traffic jam on Switzerland’s most important north-south axis in 2018. The waiting time was at times around five hours.

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The Gotthard column reached its record length last Saturday afternoon – the 28 kilometres corresponded to the longest Gotthard traffic jam since 1999.

There has never been such a long queue of cars in Switzerland since February 25, 1995 on the N1 motorway, now known as the A1. Cars were jammed for 53 kilometres between Bern and Niederbipp.

International comparison

But motorists have suffered even worse conditions in other countries over the years.

Trapped in a traffic jam that was around 100 kilometres long – for an incredible 12 days. This is what happened to travelers in August 2010 on a highway from western China towards Beijing.

The cause of this constant traffic jam was neither a closure nor a natural disaster, but simply the large number of vehicles. According to media reports, heavy trucks carrying construction materials were particularly responsible for the traffic jam.

According to media reports, thousands of cars were jammed on a highway between Hyogo and Shiga prefectures in western Japan on August 12, 1990. The column reached a maximum of 135 kilometres.

As is often the case, the high volume of traffic was caused by a public holiday. Japan’s annual Bonfest, when deceased ancestors are honoured. For many, this is a reason to get together with family and relatives.

French and German records

As Hurricane Rita headed toward Houston, millions of Texas residents were urged to seek safety. In September 2005 that meant dense crowds on Interstate 45 and a traffic jam of around 100 miles.The traffic jam reportedly lasted up to 48 hours. Although the mass evacuation led to this gridlock, it probably saved numerous people.

According to the Guinness Book, the world record for the length of a continuous traffic jam is not that far from Switzerland: it was 176 kilometres between Lyon and Paris in February 1980. Winter holidaymakers returning from the French Alps encountered bad weather.

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Also a major traffic chaos and definitely historic: on April 12, 1990, according to the Guinness Book of Records, a traffic jam of 18 million cars was reported at the German east-west border. It was the first Easter after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

Translated from German by DeepL/mga

This news story has been written and carefully fact-checked by an external editorial team. At SWI swissinfo.ch we select the most relevant news for an international audience and use automatic translation tools such as DeepL to translate it into English. Providing you with automatically translated news gives us the time to write more in-depth articles. 

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