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Tunneling Record Set at Alps Project

Monday, May 10, 2021

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A new tunneling record has been set at the Brenner Base Tunnel project, an ongoing construction effort to build new rail tunnels through the Alps.

The project is being carried out by joint venture BTC, formed by Astaldi, Ghella and Cogeis.

About the Project

According to reports, the BBT is a straight, flat railway tunnel connecting the two European countries Austria and Italy. Once completed, the tunnel will expand 55 kilometers (34 miles) between Innsbruck, Austria portal and Fortezza, Italy portal through the Alps.

However, after connecting the Innsbruck bypass (the Inn Valley Tunnel which opened in May 1994) to Fortezza, the tunnel will stretch 64 km, making it the longest railway tunnel in the world.

“This tunnel is a masterpiece along the North-South-Corridor (Scan-Med-Corridor) in Europe, belonging to the TEN (Trans-European Network for transport, energy and telecommunications) of the European Union,” explained Konrad Bergmeister, CEO of Brenner Base Tunnel SE. “The tunnel itself has a very high relevance for the three European countries Germany, Austria and Italy since the Scan-Med-Corridor with a total length of 9,000 km – starting in Finland, running through the three countries and ending at the island of Malta – is the longest of the nine Trans European Network corridors connecting all parts of Europe.”

The system is comprised of two main tubes, each 8.1 meters wide (26.6 feet wide), running 40-70 meters apart from one another. Inside, the tubes will be equipped with a single track for one-way train traffic. In the event of an emergency, the tunnels are designed to have three emergency stopping areas. The two tubes are also connected to one another every 333 meters.

The construction lot “Periadriatic seam,” was carried out between October 2011 and Summer 2015, and comprised the excavation of 3.7 km of the main tubes and 1.5 km of the exploratory tunnel.

In the summer of 2014, the Tulfes-Pfons lot in Austria, worth 380 million euros (about $461 million), was awarded to the Strabag/Salini Impregilo bidding consortium, with excavation work following that fall. Work for this portion of the project was slated to reach completion by spring 2019.

“The construction lot includes about 40 km of tunnel excavation with Tulfes emergency tunnel, Innsbruck emergency stop, main tunnel tubes, connecting tunnels and the Ahrental-Pfons exploratory tunnel,” explained TBM manager Sebastian Grüllich from Strabag, the technical leading company. “About 25 km of that, we excavate with drill-and-blast and 15 km with mechanized tunneling. The excavated volume will be about 2.3 million m3 and about 430,000 m3 structural concrete for the inner lining will be used.”

In a recent project update at the site, Strabag and Webuild were on track to complete tunnel boring sometime this year.

That fall, the southernmost construction lot of the Brenner Base Tunnel was awarded for 303 million euros to the RTI Salini-Impregilo S.p.A., Strabag AG, Strabag S.p.A., Consorzio Integra and Collini Lavori S.p.A. bidding consortium. This lot links the BBT with the existing Brenner line and the railway station in Fortezza and is slated to reach completion by 2022.

In May 2016, Mules 2 to 3 were awarded to bidding consortium Astaldi S.p.A., Ghella S.p.A., Oberosler Cav Pietro S.r.l., Cogeis S.p.A. and PAC S.p.A a contract worth 993 million euros. Construction on this portion of the project launched that following September and involves the construction of 65 km of tunnels, 39.8 km of main tunnels, 14.8 km of exploratory tunnels, in addition to various access and emergency stop tunnels.

In 2018, BBT signed a contract with Porr, Hinteregger, Condotte and Itinera for the Pfons-Brenner section in Itlay. However, this contract was terminated in October of last year. BBT is currently reassessing and optimizing the section for another tender. For the project, BBT predicts the revised project will be split into two lots with contracts awarded later this year.

This portion of the project involves the construction of the main tunnel, an exploratory tunnel, a emergency stop tunnel and crossover tunnels. Work is expected to launch this fall.

Another recent update, last year, main contractor Porr Bau started work on the H21 contract in August. The Sill Gorge site in Austria involves constructing the link between the Brenner Base Tunnel and the central station in Innsbruck and will involve 600 meters of tunneling as well as the construction of three major bridges. Work is slated to complete in 2024.

Due to the fact that the European Union considers the Brenner Base Tunnel a high priority infrastructure project, 50% of the costs for the exploratory tunnel and 40% of the costs for both main tunnels are being financed separately. The remaining 50-60% of the costs will be covered by Austria and Italy each. Specifically, the BBT is being financed under the budget of the Trans-European Networks with support from the EU.

The BBT is expected to reach full completion by 2026.

Tunneling Record

Taking place at the Mules 2-3 section, in March a Herrenknecht tunnel boring machine set the record of boring and lining an 860-meter-long tunnel in just one month. The TBM, named Virginia, is a 10.65-meter diameter double shield. The record was achieved after the TBM was noted to have developed an average advance rate of 27.7 meter per day during the month with a daily best performance of 36.75 meters.

The BTC is currently utilizing three Herrenknecht TBMs for the project.

In achieving the record, Herrenknecht credited the stable geology, a mixture of carbonate and limestone schists, along with the capacity of the double shield TBM.

Work on the Mules 2-3 section is expected to reach completion by 2023.

At the time, major progress was also made on the tunnel below the Isarco river last month with breakthrough on the 57-meter section. The work was completed in just one month following use of ground freezing techniques to avoid the need to re-route the river.

Work there is being delivered by the Isarco joint venture formed by Webuild, Strabag, Consorzio Integra and Collini Lavori and will link Brenner Base Tunnel with the existing Brenner line and the railway station in Fortezza.


Tagged categories: EU; Europe; Infrastructure; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rail; Transportation; Tunnel

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