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Transalpine rail project exhausts credit line

Operators are having to dig deeper for funds Keystone

Switzerland’s tunnel operators are facing a shortfall of several hundred million francs for the construction of two new transalpine rail links.

This content was published on February 6, 2004 - 17:42

The news comes as parliament considers granting an extra credit of SFr900 million ($730 million) for the project, bringing the total cost to SFr15.5 billion.

On Thursday a parliamentary committee warned that the bill for the tunnels could escalate further, saying the project would require a further top-up of SFr700 million.

The electorate approved a budget of SFr12.6 billion in 1998, but costs have continued to rise.

The ambitious scheme foresees the construction of two major rail links, one at the Gotthard and the other at the Lötschberg in canton Bern.

The new Gotthard tunnel alone will be 57 kilometres long, making it the longest rail tunnel in the world when it is completed in 2014.

But operators are warning they may have to cancel smaller projects because of a lack of funds.

“The tunnel will be opened in 2007 as originally planned, provided the government grants us more money,” said Peter Teuscher, the director of the Lötschberg tunnel.

The House of Representatives is due to vote on the additional credit in March. The Senate has already approved the proposals.

Spending cuts

The call for further money comes shortly after parliament approved record spending cuts, which will trim public expenditure by over SFr3 billion a year from 2006.

“It’s not certain that this will be the last demand the government [makes on] the Swiss people and parliament,” Adrian Schmid of the Swiss Association for Transport and the Environment told swissinfo.

The Federal Department of Transport said in a statement it was surprised by the massive increase and said it wanted to find out why costs had spiralled out of control.

“The tunnel operators are responsible for the realisation of the project. They have to make sure it will be finished on time and on budget,” the statement said.

Surprise

The president of the project, Andrea Hämmerle, said the news had come as a nasty shock.

“We are faced with an unexpected situation, which is pretty grave,” Hämmerle said.

Costs for the Gotthard project have risen by SFr500 million because of geological problems, while the operators of the Lötschberg tunnel are having to fork out an additional SFr200 million for unplanned construction work.

swissinfo

Key facts

The new Gotthard rail tunnel will be 57 kilometres long, making it the longest train tunnel in the world.
The Lötschberg railways first opened in 1913.
The Gotthard tunnel opened on June 1, 1882.
Initially the project was expected to cost SFr13.6 billion but projections have now been increased to SFr15.5 billion.
The aim of the project is to ease pressure on the road through the Alps.

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