The New Rail Link through the Alps NRLA


The NRLA is the largest construction project in the history of the Swiss railways. Comprising three new base tunnels and additional access routes, Switzerland has created a modern link through the Alps. Thanks to the NRLA, more trains can travel through the Alps and reach their destinations more quickly. This is helping to shift freight traffic from road to rail in order to protect the Alps.

The NRLA consists of the three base tunnels: the Lötschberg, Gotthard and Ceneri. The Ceneri Base Tunnel, the final tunnel in the NRLA to be constructed, has been fully operational since the end of 2020:

The map shows the location of each of the three tunnels.
The three base tunnels through the Swiss Alps.

The Lötschberg Base Tunnel

The Lötschberg Base Tunnel is 34 kilometres long and was opened in 2007. Two tubes were excavated along the main part of route – between Ferden and Mitholz, but save costs, the tunnel was initially only completed as a dual-track line along a third of the route.

As part of the current expansion programme, the Federal Council has decided that the Lötschberg Base Tunnel should be widened to two tracks throughout, instead of just partially. This will create additional capacity and increase operational stability.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel

The Gotthard Base Tunnel went into operation in 2016 and, at 57 kilometres, is the longest railway tunnel in the world. It took 17 years to build. The existing Gotthard railway tunnel dating from 1882, which formed part of the existing mountain route, will continue to be used for local access and tourist traffic.

The new Gotthard railway tunnel in numbers

The Ceneri Base Tunnel

At 15,4 kilometres long, the Ceneri Base Tunnel is the third-largest NRLA construction project. The portals are located in Camorino (Bellinzona) in the north and in Vezia near Lugano in the south. Opened in 2020, the Ceneri Base Tunnel was the last of the three NRLA tunnels to go into operation.

The Gotthard and Ceneri Base Tunnels on the Gotthard axis provide a flat-track route and shorten the original route by 30 kilometres. This significantly reduces journey times and costs for freight and passenger transport by rail.

Key figures for the three tunnels

NRLA – from plan to reality (in German)

From mountain route to flat-track railway

The NRLA created railway lines that cross the Alps without much difference in altitude. The gradients and curve radii of these new axes are comparable to those of railway lines in low-lying areas. As a result, distances can be reduced, maximum speeds increased and it is no longer necessary to shunt train compositions.

The graphic shows the apexes of the Gotthard and Ceneri Base Tunnels.
The apex of the new Gotthard axis is 550 metres above sea level.

Advantages of the NRLA for passenger and freight transport

Passenger transport:

  • Improved connections for peripheral cantons and tourist destinations Ticino and Valais
  • Shorter journey times to several European destinations Examples of time gains:
    • Zurich-Lugano: approx. 45 minutes (1:53 hrs vs 2:38 hrs)
    • Lugano-Locarno: approx. 25 minutes (30 vs 55 minutes)

Freight transport:

  • Increase in available transport options (i.e. capacity)
  • Driving time gains
  • Journeys with heavier and longer trains possible
  • Energy savings

A modern flat-track railway for the major north-south rail freight transport route

The NRLA is the centrepiece of the European rail freight corridor between Rotterdam and Genoa. For it to realise its full potential, the access routes in Germany and Italy also need to be expanded.

The diagram shows the connections between Rotterdam and Genoa.
Overview of the Rotterdam-Genoa rail freight corridor

Moving forward: Complete expansion of the Lötschberg Base Tunnel

The two tubes near Frutigen
In fully upgrading the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, the federal government is laying the foundations for a half-hourly intercity service between Bern and Valais.

The Federal Council wants to expand the Lötschberg Base Tunnel to two tracks throughout by around 2034. This will create additional capacity and increase operational stability, allowing a continuous half-hourly service for passenger transport. And it will not be necessary to close the base tunnel entirely for eight months, with the associated traffic diversions and negative effects for the public, tourism and the economy.


Multimedia online portal run by the Federal Archives and the Federal Office of Transport FOT: Newly accessible texts, sources, photos, films and visualisations on the largest transport project of recent decades.

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Relevant federal office

Federal Office of Transport (FOT)
Topic NRLA