GENEVA (AP) — Train travelers between north and southernmost Switzerland will have to take the scenic route in the coming months, rail authorities said Wednesday, as the clean-up operation from a freight train derailment last week in the Gotthard Railway tunnel will take longer than expected.
National railway operator SBB said 16 cars that jumped the tracks in last Thursday’s derailment remain stuck inside the 57-kilometer (35-mile) long Gotthard Railway Tunnel in the southern Ticino region.
No one was injured in the derailment but the damage was considerable. Images from the site showed, among other things, wine bottles strewn along the tracks inside the tunnel.
The tunnel is a crucial thoroughfare for goods and cargo, particularly between Germany to the north and Italy to the south. Last year, more than two-thirds of rail freight traffic through the Alps passed through the tunnel, according to the Swiss government.
One side of the tunnel — the tube that was unaffected in the derailment — should be operable “in principle” starting next Wednesday for cargo trains, SBB said, but passenger train traffic will have to wait for months.
“It appears that the extent of damage is considerably greater than that shown by the first estimates. In total, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) of track and 20,000 concrete railroad ties will have to be replaced,” SBB said. “Restoration work should continue until the end of 2023.”
“Passenger trains will run on the panoramic route until further notice,” it said. The alternate route adds an extra hour for domestic travelers and two hours for international travelers.
Leaders of France, Italy and Germany travelled to Switzerland in 2016 to join the inauguration ceremony for the tunnel, an engineering feat deep under snow-capped Alpine peaks that took 17 years to build at a cost of 12.2 billion Swiss francs ($12 billion).
The tunnel was created to help cut travel times, ease roadway traffic and reduce air pollution.
Although Switzerland is not one of the 27 members of the European Union, the EU railway network gets a big boost from the shortcut through the Alps, and the tunnel fits into a broader freight network that runs from the Dutch port city of Rotterdam to Genoa, Italy.