Official opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel

Press release, 04.09.2020

Bern, 04.09.2020 - Camorino, 04.09.2020 - Address by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis on the occasion of the Inauguration Ceremony "Ceneri2020" - Check against delivery

© FDFA

Sehr geehrte Frau Bundespräsidentin Simonetta Sommaruga,
Egregio presidente del Governo ticinese Norman Gobbi,
Sehr geehrter Herr Ständeratspräsident Hans Stöckli,
Monsieur le Directeur général des CFF Vincent Ducrot,
Sehr geehrter CEO der ATG Herr Dieter Schwank,
Stimati consiglieri di Stato,
Stimati parlamentari,
Gentili signore e signori,

A vision comes true

Today, a vision comes true. A vision that was first imagined in 1947 by Carl Eduard Gruner, an engineer and traffic planner in Basel. It was Gruner who drew the first sketch of a base tunnel running through the imposing Gotthard massif.

They say you should see a doctor if you have visions. But I think visions can be healthy too, maybe because I am a doctor...

The Federal Council must have had the same idea, because in 1989, it not only recognised Gruner's vision but decided to take it further by endorsing a proposal to build base tunnels through the Gotthard, Lötschberg and Ceneri – where we are gathered today to celebrate the completion of this visionary project.

In a way, there is a touch of audacity to the determination of the Swiss to dismantle the very mountains they encircle with their mix of diverse cultures. To construct a flat railway through this Alpine massif.

Nobel Prize winner Carl Spitteler once wrote that if the Swiss had invented the Alps, they would have made them much smaller. This is because of the typical Swiss approach of bringing things that seem excessive down to size. But seeing as we did not create the Alps, there is nothing left to do but take up the challenge…

The glue that binds Switzerland

Ladies and gentlemen

AlpTransit is the glue that binds our country. And just as the Gotthard has united Switzerland, so will Ceneri unite Ticino.

The Ceneri Base Tunnel will bring us closer together, shortening the distance from Lugano to Bellinzona – even to its famous carnival, virus permitting. Competition between the lakes of Lugano and Locarno could get worse, if all you have to do is jump on a train to zip between the Lugano Jazz Festival and the Locarno Film Festival.

The AlpTransit also draws us north of the Alps. This coming and going between the north and south, which I have been experiencing for many years – first as an MP and now as federal councillor – is the very essence of our identity.

There are a number of differences between us and our compatriots: culture, language, humour, fashion. But what binds Switzerland together is its institutions: federalism, direct democracy, the system of part-time public service, neutrality, modesty and, in between all of this, a spirit of innovation, perhaps even a visionary spirit, born of the ruggedness of our surroundings.

Major railway projects that spread both fear and joy

The sense of Swissness transports itself on our railways. Indeed, it was the railways that brought industry, tourism, and a measure of prosperity to Ticino. And it was also the railways that led to our canton's full participation in the young federal state in 1882, just forty years after its founding. After the railway came the road, the motorway tunnel and, alas, the traffic jams and accidents.

But the Swiss people did not leave it at that. In 2016, they voted to build a new motorway to improve safety and because of the valuable link between Italian-speaking Switzerland and the rest of the country. And even before that, between 1992 and 1998 Swiss voters approved a multi-billion investment to transport goods by rail rather than road.

We must not forget all those who paid a heavy price for this progress. The construction of the railways at the end of the 19th century claimed many lives. There have also been victims on the AlpTransit site – fewer than in earlier times but no less devastating.  Our thoughts are with all those people today.

As with any change, the railway construction sites also generated fear. Ticino fully embraced the railway from the start,  but in the canton of Uri, when the first train arrived some people wore black armbands to symbolise the death of the Alpine trade routes where donkeys were used to transport goods.

A part of Europe

Ladies and gentlemen

Switzerland's birthplace in the heart of the Alps, in the centre of Europe, has given us many advantages. We are positioned on a transit route as rugged as it is vital, at the crossroads of diverse European cultures, between the North and the South.

Our visionary project that has been completed today highlights Switzerland's connection with the European continent, which continues to be a key source of our country's well-being. Indeed, Switzerland has been shaped by its continuous engagement with Europe and its nations, as well as with the European Union, which the majority of the continent's states have now joined.

Throughout the ups and downs of the last seven centuries, we have always taken a pragmatic approach to strengthening our identity while maintaining the openness we need for our success, for our prosperity, cultural richness and scientific wealth, and for our strengths in innovation. 

My hope is that this final piece of the high-speed line through the Alps will reinforce this understanding of our relationship with the continent surrounding us, a relationship that has a stable basis today thanks to our bilateral agreements with the European Union.

Today we reaffirm our confidence in Switzerland and in our railways, which keep the heart of our country beating and connect us to the rest of the continent – thanks to our pioneering spirit and identity.

Thank you.

Press release, 06.08.2020

Bern, 06.08.2020 - In the first week of September, Simonetta Sommaruga, President of the Swiss Confederation, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and the president of the Ticino cantonal council Norman Gobbi will open the new Ceneri Base Tunnel, the final link in the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA). The tunnel will be officially handed over to the operator SBB on 4 September. A day previously, Ms Sommaruga will meet representatives of Switzerland’s partner countries. The NRLA – the heart of the rail freight corridor running through the Alps – is key to Switzerland’s policy of shifting freight transport from road to rail. Thanks to the Ceneri Base Tunnel, Ticino also gains an attractive suburban railway.

© EGTC

The festivities to mark the opening of the Ceneri Base Tunnel and the completion of the New Rail Link through the Alps NRLA are rather more modest than originally planned owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • On Thursday, 3 September 2020, Simonetta Sommaruga, President of the Swiss Confederation, will meet representatives of the neighbouring countries directly involved to discuss transalpine rail freight transport and environmental transport policy. Following these talks, the group will inspect the north portal of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, the final link in the NRLA. The flat route through the Alps forms the heart of the European freight corridor between Rotterdam and Genoa, allowing more freight to be transported by rail and thus contributing to the protection of the Alps and Switzerland’s transport policy of shifting freight transport off the roads.
  • The official opening takes place on Friday, 4 September 2020. The original intention was to invite 650 guests, but the scale of the event has been considerably reduced owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Ms Sommaruga, Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and the president of the Ticino cantonal council Norman Gobbi will attend the event, as will Dieter Schwank, CEO of the tunnel construction company ATG and Vincent Ducrot, CEO of the tunnel operator SBB.
  • The opening ceremony will be held at midday in front of the tunnel’s north portal at Camorino. A ribbon will be cut in the traditional manner to mark the completion of the construction project, and a freight train will make the very first trip through the tunnel. The event will be broadcast live by Italian language broadcaster RSI.

Tunnel commissioned with December timetable change

The tunnel will be commissioned to coincide with the change in the public transport timetable in mid December. The SBB and its partners are planning various events. On 12 December an event will be held with selected guests, and on 13 December the first timetabled intercity train to pass through the Ceneri Base Tunnel will be celebrated. Next summer festivals will be held in Bellinzona, Lugano and Locarno to celebrate the opening of the Ticino suburban railway. The Ceneri Base Tunnel creates much better connections for the three towns and indeed the whole canton, almost halving the journey time between Lugano and Locarno.

The NRLA and the completion of the four-metre corridor through Switzerland create greater rail capacity for freight transport. In passenger transport, SBB will implement the majority of the planned services on schedule when the timetable changes mid December. In addition to improvements in regional services, there will be faster and more frequent north-south connections and more international services.