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Dieter Schwank: the man who… completes the new alpine crossroads

Men who have come so far: an exclusive interview with Dieter Schwank, Chairman of the Executive Board of Alptransit San Gottardo SA

Dieter Schwank: the man who... completes the new alpine crossroads

  Dieter Schwank – Per la versione in Italiano:

On the occasion of the opening and commissioning of the Ceneri base tunnel, we asked Dieter Schwank a series of questions about the work who, in the position of Chairman of the Management, supports that of Head of the legal area of ​​AlpTransit San Gottardo.

The first week of September 2020 took place in the name of Alptransit: in the night from 31 August to 1 September, the Ceneri base tunnel – the last element of Alptransit – passed from the construction company AlpTransit San Gottardo SA to the SBB operator. After that, the latter – as part of the so-called test exercise – will have 4,000-5,000 passenger or freight trains pass through the tunnel before starting operation in December 2020.

Subsequently, on Friday 4 September, the President of the Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga, the Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis and the President of the Ticino Council of State Norman Gobbi inaugurated the work by delivering it to the SBB, Manager of the base tunnel.

Alptransit, the hub of the corridor for rail freight through the Alps, thus strengthens the Swiss traffic transfer policy. Furthermore, thanks to the Ceneri base tunnel, Ticino will benefit from an interesting regional express network.

Dieter Schwank
1. The moment of the ribbon cutting: from left, Dieter Schwank, Chairman of the Executive Board of AlpTransit San Gottardo SA, Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis, President of the Confederation Simonetta Sommaruga, President of the Ticino Council of State Norman Gobbi and SBB CEO Vincent Ducrot
“Strade & Autostrade”: “How were the two pipes made from the North portal of Camorino to the South portal of Vezia and what are their characteristics?”.

“Dieter Schwank”: “The Ceneri base tunnel was excavated solely for explosives. The rock cover reaches maximum peaks of 800 m. Most of the excavation took place simultaneously in both directions from the Sigirino intermediate attack. To optimize time and money, only non-invasive techniques were used in these areas.

The progress towards the south took place more quickly than expected. It was only March 17, 2015 when, in the West barrel, the diaphragm fell towards the Vezia counter-advance – about 13 months ahead of schedule!

On 21 January 2016, the miners celebrated the fall of the main diaphragm, in correspondence with the West barrel of the Ceneri Base Tunnel, together with the numerous guests invited for the occasion. The fall of the diaphragm occurred with the utmost precision: vertically the difference was 2 cm, horizontally 1 cm”.

“S&A”: “Summarizing the work, what are the numbers that characterize the Monte Ceneri tunnel?”.

“DS”: “The Ceneri base tunnel is made up, similarly to that of the Gotthard, of two single-track pipes about 40 m apart and connected to each other by transverse tunnels every 325 m. Given its length of 15.4 km, no lane changes or multifunctional stations are necessary”.

“S&A”: “What were the main challenges?”.

“DS”: “In the planning phase of the project, the choice of the tunnel system: initially a double-track tunnel was designed; finally, in line with the Gotthard Base Tunnel, it was decided for two single-track tubes. During the rough construction, key points with unfavorable geotechnical properties had to be addressed, namely the Val Colla line.

At the time of the assignment of the lots, two appeals were filed for the railway engineering installations which were resolved in favor of ATG, but led to a one year delay in the project”.

Dieter Schwank
2. A snapshot during an official moment of the baptism of the AlpTransit locomotive
“S&A”: “Where are the protection and control systems located and who is in charge of the railway command technology?”.

“DS”: “The railway engineering buildings are located in the south in Vezia and in the north in Camorino. Instead, the operating center is located in Pollegio and manages all the railway traffic of the Gotthard axis. In addition to the section that extends from Arth-Goldau to the border with Italy, the CE Sud will also monitor both the Gotthard and Ceneri base tunnels”.

“S&A”: “In a previous interview (see “S&A” n° 118 July/August 2016 on page 182), we asked Renzo Simoni and Peter Füglistaler-Wasmer what the prospects for railway traffic were after the future openings of all alpine base tunnels. It was said that the Ceneri tunnel would be operational at the end of 2020: Swiss punctuality is legendary! In addition to the timing, was it possible to meet the costs initially foreseen?”.

“DS”: “Through well-founded planning and comprehensive risk assessment, we were able to meet costs. Based on this, up-to-date and transparent cost management can be done at any time”.

“S&A”: “Since 2009, you have also been Head of the legal area of ​​AlpTransit San Gottardo: would you like to talk more fully about this position and the main problems you have faced since you have held it?”.

“DS”: “From a legal point of view, this project of the century offers a multitude of questions. The legal service deals with issues such as railway law, procurement legislation, contract law and environmental law, dispute resolution, compensation and also aspects relating to the organization of the company.

Authorization procedures are a great challenge. It is about ensuring that the necessary permits are in place at all stages of the project, before building can begin. The procurement procedures are equally demanding. Almost all of the works are subject to a public tender. In case of complaints, the execution of the project may be delayed.

This was the case in the contract for two lots for railway technology to the Ceneri base tunnel, where an entire year was lost. Fortunately, the federal court proved us right”.

3. The Camorino hub
“S&A”: “What kind of measures have been taken in terms of health and safety within the construction site after the end of the lockdown period for the pandemic given by Covid-19?”.

“DS”: “AlpTransit San Gottardo SA has requested and received an exceptional authorization from the Canton of Ticino to be able to continue the works relating to the commissioning of the Ceneri base tunnel.

At the beginning the test runs, which must be performed by the test manager together with the driver, were not possible because the required distance of 2 m in the cabin could not be maintained.

With regard to maintenance activities, ATG has examined together with the contractors involved all the processes, instructions and control measures aimed at ensuring compliance with all the rules.

From 6 April 2020, the maintenance work in the Ceneri Base Tunnel has been resumed as authorized by the Canton, guaranteeing compliance with the Directives of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) such as social distance, temperature measurement and thorough washing. hands, etc..

Finally, on 20 April 2020, the test runs in the Ceneri base tunnel resumed together with SBB. The conditions for the recovery were defined in close interaction with the medical specialists of the FOPH and SBB and ensure strict compliance with the FOPH Directives”.

“S&A”: “What consequences did the temporary suspension of works and tests for the commissioning of the tunnel have compared to the initial time schedule?”.

“DS”: “Fortunately for the moment there have been no consequences on the work program. Of the 358 tests planned by the end of the test exercise, we managed to carry out 202 with a total of 1,500 single runs covering 23,000 km. AlpTransit delivered the Ceneri Base Tunnel to SBB as planned on 4 September 2020”.

4. The North portal in Vigana
“S&A”: “In Italy there still seems to be a problem of communicating large infrastructural works and their importance to citizens, such as in the case of the Turin-Lyon and the controversies related to it: how this part of raising awareness was managed and preliminary information from AlpTransit San Gottardo, and what response did you receive from public opinion?”.

“DS”: “In Switzerland the people’s vote is the basis for every major project. Already in 1963, the Confederation established the “Commission for railway tunnels across the Alps” which, after evaluating various base tunnel solutions, in 1970 recommended the construction of a Gotthard base tunnel between Amsteg and Biasca.

In 1989 the Federal Council approved the creation of a so-called “network variant”: a combination of Alpine crossings across the Gotthard and Lötschberg.

In 1992, the Swiss people approved the Federal Decree on the construction of the Alpine Cross Railway (Alpine Transit Decree) with 64% of the votes, laying the foundations for the design and construction of the Gotthard and Lötschberg NRLA axes. In 1994, with the yes of the Swiss people to the “Alpine Initiative”, the protection of the Alps became an integral part of the Federal Constitution.

With the approval of the performance-related heavy traffic tax (HVF) and the Federal Decree on the construction and financing of public transport infrastructure projects (FTP), the Swiss population gave the green light to the construction of the New Railway in 1998 Transalpina”.

“S&A”: “Open days are almost unknown in Italy: what are the advantages of these initiatives?”.

“DS”: “The open door days are a good opportunity to let the population touch the progress of the construction work firsthand, spending a moment of leisure within an area that is usually not accessible. In addition, those involved in the project have the opportunity to introduce themselves to the population and answer their questions directly”.

“S&A”: “The Ceneri tunnel is called the “plain tunnel”: why?”.

“DS”: “The slopes and radii of curvature of this new North-South axis are comparable to those of the lowland railway sections, which means that the distances are shorter, the maximum speeds higher and the decomposition of the trains with maneuvers of sorting no longer necessary.

The lowland railway reduces the distance from Basel to Chiasso by about 40 km and records a maximum gradient of 12.5‰, much lower than that of the Gotthard (26‰) and Ceneri (26‰) mountain sections”.

5. (photo credit:

Dieter Schwank’s Curriculum Vitae

Married and living in Riehen near Basel, Dieter Schwank – born in 1960 – has been Chairman of the Executive Board of AlpTransit San Gottardo SA since mid-2017, client of the two Gotthard and Ceneri base tunnels. He also heads the Legal Service, for which he has been responsible since founding in 2009.

After completing his law studies at the University of Basel and obtaining a lawyer certificate, from 1989 to 1992 Dieter Schwank worked as a Legal Advisor at the Sulzer Group in Winterthur and from 1993 to 1998 at the Central Legal Office at Sulzer International. From 1998 to 2009, he was Head of Legal Services for the Steiner Group in Zurich.

  Dieter Schwank – Per la versione in Italiano: