Loetschberg summit tunnel

While building the Simplon tunnel between Brig and Iselle (Italy), Government in Bern wanted to build, in addition to the Gotthard line, another Alpine Traverse, which should link the Simplon line to the rest of Switzerland. Different variants have been developed. James Ladame suggested a tunnel from Blausee-Mitholz to Leuk. Other proposals, including a tunnel from Selden (Gastern valley) to Wiler (Loetschental) as well as the finally built variant, came from Wilhelm Teuscher. Ernst von Stockalper wanted to build a tunnel under the Wildstrubel from Lenk to Leukerbad. In 1902 all variants were analyzed in detail and finally decided that the variant under the Wildstrubel was the best. The Pro-Loetschberg Committee checked the Wildstrubel-Project once more, and found various failures in the calculations. The indicated price was too deep. It would never be possible to build this line for this price. After that, three variants for the Loetschberg line were worked out in detail and the variant with slopes of 27 ‰ and with electric traction finally approved. So, on July 27 1906 the «Berner Alpenbahn-Gesellschaft» was founded. The contract for the construction on the line was granted to the French «Entreprise Générale de Construction du Lötschberg EGL» on July 27 1906.

Between July and October 1906 measurements were performed. The main work started on October 15 in Kandersteg and on November 28 in Goppenstein. At the beginning, the workers only had pick and shovel to build the tunnel until in 1907 mechanical drills were put in operation on the northern site. In Goppenstein, workers had to wait until 1908 to put in operations the new compressed air drilling machines. Until this time, only 195 meters from the tunnel were excavated. The first train from the construction railway reached Goppenstein on August 19 1908. Up to this day all the material had to be transported via a narrow footpath.

Construction site Goppenstein


Up to 1000 people were employed in Goppenstein. Most of the workers brought their families. So there were up to 3000 people living in Goppenstein. To accommodate all those people numerous houses were built between Goppenstein and Mittal (No 4 on the map). In addition there were also built schools, hospitals, shops and restaurants. In Goppenstein there was even a movie theater and a post office (No 5 on the map). In the area of the future tunnel portal (No 1 on the map) workshops and other service buildings were created (No 2 on the map). So the tools and trains could have been repaired in Goppenstein itself.

To transport the material and tools from and to the different construction sites, there were built railway tracks with a total length of 5390 meters. To connect all the tracks, 40 switches were installed. In use were 11 locomotives, 270 freight cars and 30 passenger cars. 5 compressed air locomotives were used in the tunnel while the other 6 steam locomotives hauled trains to and from Brig.

The installations and buildings in Goppenstein were demolished from the beginning of 1912 because they were no longer needed and the new railway facilities had to be built. At the end of 1912 most of the former construction buildings had disappeared.

For the construction of the Loetschberg tunnel they applied the English construction system. Here, first a sole and a ridge tunnel were excavated. After that, the full excavation for the tunnel could be done. First holes were drilled into the rock which were filled with explosives. After blowing up the debris had cleared away and new holes could have been drilled. Up to six times per day was a blowing up. With this system, an average of 4.98 meters of tunnelling could be completed per day.

To ventilate the whole tunnel during the construction period there was built a ventilator building next to the tunnel portal. Through a shaft, fresh air was blowed into the main tunnel. For this, two big fans with a diameter of 3.5 meters were used. In the finished part of the tunnel was built a partition wall. Through this Weather channel, the fresh air was blown to two mobile fans at the end of the channel. From this place, the fresh air reached the constructions sites through pipes.

At this time and on such a big building project, accidents and illnesses were daily business. To look after injured, in Kandersteg and Goppenstein was built a hospital with up to 40 beds. In addition there were first aid points in the tunnel to support injures immediately. While building the tunnel and the railway line, there were 4596 injured and 64 deaths. Approximately half of the deaths falls on two serious events.

On February 29 1908 a big powder avalanche hit Goppenstein and destroyed the hotel of the company. The avalanche came, when the staff was at dinner. 12 people, 2 of them from foreign companys, were found dead. Another 15 people were injured in the avalanche flow. The work could continue a month later, after an avalanche guard was organized.

Just a few months after the avalanche, on July 24 1908 there was a water and scree slump in the tunnel. The collapse occurred under the Gastern valley when they drilled from the solid rock into the rivers sediment of the river Kander. In just 15 minutes the tunnel was filled with river sediment on 1100 meters. 25 workers were buried by scree. Only few of the workers were rescued. Most of them are still in the tunnel. After this slump, the route had to be diverted and the collapsed area was walled.

The breakthrough
Weeks before the breakthrough, they had to take preparations for the safety of the workers. For example, the blasts on both sides were made only after arrangement. A few days before breakthrough, the workers could hear the drilling machines from the opposite side. On March 31 1911, shortly after 2 o'clock the drill from the south side broke through into the north side. The last 80 centimetres were blowing up from the north side. At 3:55 the blast was over and the tunnel broken through. On April 1, the breakthrough was celebrated on both sides. The entire staff was invited on April 10 for a big festival in Kandersteg. The staff from the south reached Kandersteg through the new tunnel.

Of course, the tunnel wasn't finished with the breakthrough. There was still the full excavation an the masonry to do. The full excavation was finished exactly one year after the breakthrough on March 31 1913. The masonry was finished on April 22. For economic reasons, the final works were continued from Kandersteg only and the settlement in Goppenstein was resolved. After laying the tracks and completion of the electrical installations, on June 3 1913, the first train passed through the new tunnel.