The Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne is presenting a special exhibition, NRLA – Gateway to the South. It opened on the 24th March, in the presence of Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, it runs until 23 October 2016. The focus of the exhibition is on the new Gotthard Base Tunnel, which is being inaugurated on 1 June. Visitors will be able to get a real feel for the world’s longest railway tunnel – the civil engineering exploit of the century – and the story of the New Railway Link through the Alps, cornerstone of the north-south transport axis. The southerly ambience is being provided by Ticino Turismo.
The route over the top of the Gotthard massif was, for centuries, the quickest way through the Alps between north and south. The opening of the Gotthard summit railway tunnel in 1882 ushered in a new era for traffic transiting the Alps. Now, 134 years later, the inauguration of the new tunnel at the base of the mountain is heralding another revolution in rail transport. It has been made possible thanks to progress in engineering science, a pioneering spirit and innovations in tunnelling. Greeting visitors as they arrive for the exhibition is “Sissi”, the tunnel boring head. A granite relief model of the “San Gottardo” region of Cantons Uri, Ticino, Valais and Graubünden – commissioned for the Expo Milano 2015 – helps visitors picture the challenges faced by the tunnel’s builders. The 25-tonne sculpture fashioned from Cresciano granite sourced from the Ticino Riviera presents the topography of the Gotthard region. The central location of the Gotthard massif in the Alpine arc puts it centre stage in terms of its significance for Europe’s north-south transport axis.
Original vehicles help visualise the evolution of mobility
The legendary Gotthard stagecoach; Genf, a Class Ec 2/5 steam-powered railway engine built for the Centralbahn Railway in 1858 and the oldest serviceable locomotive in the world; the Swiss Federal Railways’ Crocodile Be 6/8 II – all testify to the evolution of mobility. Representing the historical engines that used to ply the Gotthard summit route are a Class Ae 8/14 electric locomotive (dubbed “Landilok”); a powerful Class Ae 6/6 locomotive (the “Universallok”) used for hauling passenger and goods trains; Switzerland’s largest steam engine, the Class C 5/6 “Elefant”; and a steam-powered snow blower with an eye-catching Canton Uri coat-of-arms on the front. Featured in the Arena is a BLS Railway car/rail transporter used on the Lötschberg-Simplon axis through the Swiss Alps.
Longest railway tunnel in the world
The Gotthard Base Tunnel comprises two single-track bores each 57 km in length. Counting all the cross- passages, access and ventilation galleries and shafts, it consists of more than 152 km of tunnelling. Its north portal is in Erstfeld, its south portal in Bodio. Featuring a rock overburden of up to 2300 metres, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is not just the world’s longest rail tunnel: it is also the deepest ever built. Providing a visualisation of the sheer scale of the mountain profile, the exhibition presents a 57 metre- long animated model of the base tunnel scaled at 1:1000. The model documents the 50 rock strata pierced in the course of the tunnelling. Hand-made samples, drill cores and a mortar stone may be touched and chiselled. The various aspects of the tunnelling work and of the complex tunnel bore layout are explained. The model also shows the contents of the tunnel in terms of the technical infrastructure needed by the Swiss Federal Railways to operate it. The film and photo gallery presents posters and images depicting the history of the trans-European, transalpine railway system.
Shortest railway tunnel in the world
Also on show in the Arena is a 15-metre full-size walk-through mock-up of the tunnel complete with technical facilities. This remarkable construction presents a view of the south in the form of the boating pool fringed by palms. A visionary tunnel installation in the Rail Transport Hall gives visitors the illusion that they are looking inside the tunnel from one of the portals. It includes static and interactive elements displaying information.
The feel of Ticino
Guesting on the Arena is Ticino Turismo, the canton’s tourism agency. A unique attraction in the Rail Transport Hall takes visitors on a journey through the Gotthard Tunnel into Canton Ticino. Virtual-reality glasses allow visitors, in full panorama and as if they were there, to experience the construction of both bores of the Gotthard Base Tunnel and discover Ticino’s sights. Available on the boating pool is a unique fleet of vintage pedalos, which should stir a few memories amongst the older visitors; the younger ones will admire the stylish Swiss design. Famous Swiss clown Dimitri has an exhibition of his own, while the boating pool is surrounded by quotes from various Ticino personalities from the worlds of art, business, society and entertainment. The Grottino restaurant offers southern specialities and the Arena is transformed into a palm garden.