The project comprises two major sections, the Gotthard axis and the Lötschberg axis.
The Lötschberg axis, with the new Lötschberg Base Tunnel in the Bernese Alps is currently being constructed by the company BLS AlpTransit Lötschberg AG. The long base tunnel opened to traffic in June 2007 and is the first part of AlpTransit to be completed. It supports the western transit link via Basel - Olten - Berne - Brig - Domodossola - Milan. For most traffic, it will replace the existing higher altitude Lötschberg Tunnel that was finished in 1913. Because of cost constraints, only one of the bores of the Lötschberg Tunnel has been completed and equipped for rail use, while the other, was completed along one third of its length and excavated along a further third leaving the final third unstarted. High speed track switches allow the use of the completed third as a passing track. The second part of the Lötschberg axis is the ancient Simplon Tunnel, completed in 1905 as a long single-track base tunnel and refurbished with a second bore by the end of 1921. It connects the Upper Valais with the Piedmont region in Northern Italy.
In negotiations with the European Union, Switzerland demanded a limitation of transalpine heavy goods traffic which was denied by the EU. Therefore the Swiss negotiators took another route and demanded a Kilometre-based tax on heavy goods vehicles, the so called LSVA, which was to be installed for all domestic and international truck traffic above 3.5 tons. Negotiations subsequently turned towards the amount of that tax, and Switzerland offered to build a new high-speed rail link through the Alps for the main purpose of intermodal transport, an offer which was later accepted by the EU but not without attaching the condition that the then valid 28-ton-limit for trucks must be raised to 48 tons. A settlement was achieved with the acceptance by both sides of a step-by-step raise of the weight limit to 40 tons. Thus, the bilateral Land Transport Agreement with the European Union was reached and once the NRLA is finished, the Kilometre-based tax on HGVs can be increased from 1.6 ct/tkm to 1.8 ct/tkm. This condition will be fulfilled with the completion of the Lötschberg base tunnel.
Further Swiss legislation demands a stop of road building in the Alps and a shift in transportation policy (Article on the Protection of the Alps, adopted 1994), the transfer of as many goods as possible from transalpine transport by road to transport by train and the setting of a Transfer Goal, a maximum number of trucks to cross the Alps by road (Traffic Transfer Act, adopted 1999). These goals however can only be accomplished with a fully functional Alptransit rail link.
Original plans for the NRLA included the construction of only one of the main base tunnels. Since no decision could be made and regional dispute threatened to put the entire project in danger, the Swiss Federal Council decided in 1996 to build both base tunnels, Gotthard and Lötschberg, and to build them simultaneously.
The total cost of the AlpTransit projects is currently (2005) estimated to reach 16 billion Swiss francs ($US 13 billion). The Swiss population accepted the project by vote on September 27, 1992 and re-approved it, accepting its new financing structure by a new public transport fund, in 1999. This fund (FinöV) is fed mainly by the Kilometre-based tax on heavy goods vehicles, as well as part of the taxes on gasoline originally intended for road building and a minor part of VAT funds. The fund amounts to 30.5 billion Swiss francs (ca. $24.4 billion) allocated over 20 years and funds projects other than AlpTransit, such as Rail 2000.
Lotschberg base tunnel set to open in 2007; fitting out of the Lotschberg base tunnel is well underway. This is the first of Switzerland's huge AlpTransit construction projects to improve rail links through the Alps.(Alpine Railways)(Company Profile)
Dec 01, 2005; WHEN the 34.6km Lotschberg base tunnel opens in 2007 it will provide a shorter and faster north-south rail link beneath the Alps...