Monday, December 10, 2007

"Lötschberg base" train tunnel opened yesterday

A 35 km tunnel through the "base" of the swiss mountains underneath the Lötschen pass officially opened to all rail traffic yesterday, Dec 9. (Search on the swiss maps for Lötschenpass to see where it is.)

Before the Lötschberg base tunnel opened, trains had to first go up, up, up, then through a shorter Lötschberg tunnel, before going down, down, down. The new tunnel shortens the train travel from Zurich to the canton (state) of Wallis in the souther region of Alps from 3 hours to 2 hours, because the trains go nearly horizontally and nearly in a straight line. Can't complain about saving one hour, especially if one is traveling with kids.

More information on this Lötschberg Base Tunnel can be found here, under information and images, as well as in a wikipedia article.

They operated two trains a day in the tunnel, on a very limited basis, for the last five months or so, but starting yesterday it is a train every two hours. We took this "NEAT - Express" (pronounced Neh - at) twice before the official opening, paying 10 swiss franks extra for that privilege of getting there one hour earlier and sitting in first class. (They had no second class wagons.)

Here we are in the NEAT express on Nov 16:

Both experiences left something to be desired. First time, the connecting train left the station where we wanted to get onto it some 10 mins earlier than we were told, and we missed it. Luckily Martin's dad drove us down to the main station, some half hour away, and we still managed to get onto the NEAT Express there. Still, in a country famous for its trains and its watches and being on-time, it was a bad error.

The second time we were going in the other direction. We got onto the NEAT Express without problem. Then the NEAT Express waited some additional 7 minutes because one of the connecting train was late, then we finally went, and we were a few minutes late coming out the other side of the tunnel. As you may already have guessed, the connecting train that we were going to take there did not wait for the NEAT express, and left right on schedule. As a result, we had to wait for the next train, one hour later. So much for saving one hour on the trip - simply did not happen.

We were told that the problem was that the main company did not communicate the delay of the NEAT Express to the company operating the connecting train. Considering that they are promoting the new tunnel, saying one can spend one additional hour eating fondue or raclette (another cheese dish) in Wallis thanks to the tunnel, I hope that they improved the communication in the last two weeks since our experience. We will see how it goes this weekend when we go to Wallis and back, now that the tunnel is officially opened.

Overall, the Lotschberg base tunnel is a feat of engineering and we are very glad that it shortens the time to get to the mountains and grandparents.

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