The quick way through the mountains
Twenty years ago today, the first carriages rolled along the tracks through the longest tunnel in RhB’s network – the Vereina Tunnel.
19 November 1999 marked the big day: in the presence of the then Federal Councillor and Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger, the Swiss canton of Graubünden celebrated the opening of the Vereina Tunnel. Rhaetian Railway’s chief engineer and project manager, Willy Altermatt, symbolically welded the last track joint, opening the way for the first year-round rail link between the Prättigau and the Lower Engadin. Three days later, from 5:45 am, the first scheduled trains whizzed through the Vereina massif. Exactly 20 years later and the 18-or-so-minute journey through the mountain makes it easier for tourists and commuters to travel to and from the Engadin. In the first year alone, 280,000 vehicles rolled through the tunnel; today, more than 480,000 vehicles roll through on average every year.
At 19,042 metres in length, the Vereina Tunnel is the longest tunnel in the RhB network as well as the longest metre-gauge railway tunnel in the world. And that’s not the only thing that makes the structure so exceptional: the first expansion to the RhB route network since 1914 has so far been the last, bringing the entire network to an impressive 385 kilometres in length. Also on a record-breaking scale is the fact that construction took only eight-and-a-half years rather than the planned nine. The planning and implementation of the project on the other hand took slightly longer: it would be 24 years before the initial idea to create a link that was safe from avalanches between the northern part of the canton and the Engadin would result in the opening of the Vereina Tunnel. The administrative council of the government of the Swiss canton of Graubünden presented the first white paper for the groundbreaking project as early as 1975, but it wasn’t until ten years later that the people of the canton agreed to it. Following the approval of the proposal by Swiss Parliament, the groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1991 – eight years later the mountain was conquered.
The RhB network boasts a total of 115 tunnels, more than half of which are in need of renovation due to their age. In addition to minor renovation work, the building of the new Albula Tunnel is currently one of the biggest projects ever to be realised by Rhaetian Railway. Construction work began in 2015 on the new tunnel on the UNESCO World Heritage route between Spinas and Preda, with the first trains expected to roll through the mountain in 2022. The breakthrough on 2 October last year marked the biggest project milestone. More on this historic moment can be seen and read in the latest edition of “Contura”.