In order to implement the partial expansion of the Lötschberg base tunnel, planning approval was received by the Swiss railway company BLS.
While only 14km of the 35km-long tunnel are two-lane at the moment, a second tube has been dug over a further 14km but is not equipped for rail operations and the north portal’s remaining 7km at the second tube has yet to be excavated.
The estimated date for the final decision of the Swiss parliament on whether only the 14km shell construction tube is going to be equipped with railway technology (partial expansion) or whether the base tunnel should be extended to double-track throughout (full expansion) is 2023. To this end, BLS is preparing the project for the full expansion by the end of 2022 to a planning status comparable to that of the partial expansion project.
In order to allow the company to adapt the project accordingly if parliament decides on full expansion, BLS will only tender the main work for the partial expansion after the parliamentary decision. In 2026 the major work for the further expansion is slated to commence.
Considering the current planning status, the estimated cost for partial expansion will be US$982m.
BLS supports full expansion of the tunnel, citing increased capacity for freight and passenger traffic.
According to BLS: “In addition, the tunnel, as an important connection between the Mittelland and Valais, would remain passable throughout the construction period. In the case of a partial expansion, the tunnel would have to be completely closed for eight months.”