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Ceneri Base Tunnel is officially open

Simonetta Sommaruga opening the Ceneri Base Tunnel on Friday Keystone

The Ceneri Base Tunnel has been officially opened, with the first freight train passing through the tunnel in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino shortly after 11:30am. Passengers will have to wait for the new national rail timetable in December.

“As a child I spent almost all of my holidays in Ticino […] the journey over the mountain, the Monte Ceneri, seemed to take an age,” Simonetta Sommaruga, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, said in her inauguration speech on Friday morning.

“Monte Ceneri separated many people here in this canton, not only geographically, but also socially. Now North and South are coming closer together. Instead of going over the mountain, we can go through the mountain.”

The Ceneri Tunnel strengthens public transport “and strengthens Ticino”, she said.

The 15.4-kilometre tunnel between Camorino in the north and Vezia in the south is the last section of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NEAT), the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by Switzerland, costing around CHF23 billion ($25 billion).

In December the tunnel will not only provide faster north-south connections for Switzerland and Europe but will also bring northern and southern Ticino closer together. Travel time between Bellinzona and Lugano will be cut from 27 minutes to 19 minutes. From Lugano to Locarno the savings will be even greater, from 50 minutes to 29 minutes.

‘Brave and far-sighted’

Sommaruga further praised the “brave and far-sighted” decision of Swiss voters, 63.6% of whom backed the NEAT in 1992. Construction officially began with the first blasting of the Lötschberg base tunnel on July 5, 1999.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel, together with the Gotthard and the Lötschberg, is “the core of the most important rail corridor between the North Sea and the Mediterranean”, Sommaruga said.

The impact will be significant on international traffic. From next year, travellers will be able to get from Zurich to Milan in less than three-and-a-half hours. When other projects are completed, including on the Italian side, this time will drop to three hours – 40 minutes quicker than what it is now.

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