Brenner Base Tunnel Excavation Reaches Halfway Point

Overview of the whole Brenner Base Tunnel system

Overview of the whole Brenner Base Tunnel system between Austria in the North (left) and Italy in the South (right) (Source: BBT SE)

Exactly 50% of the excavation – 115 km of the total 230 km – of the longest underground railway link in the world has now been completed. In order to make this large infrastructure project a reality, about 1,900 people are working non-stop on the construction works in Austria and Italy.

The tunnel project is going strong with 11 excavation fronts – the BBT SE project company is very pleased with the extraordinary results.

The works are proceeding apace on the four construction lots, Tulfes-Pfons, Pfons-Brenner, Mules and the Isarco River Underpass. The weekly excavation advancement of the BBT project, both mechanical and using explosives, is about 500 m. The 115 km of tunnels excavated so far include 34 km of railway tunnels, 43 km of exploratory tunnels and 38 km of other types of tunnel works such as emergency stops and logistics or access tunnels.

The Brenner Base Tunnel project company is also extremely pleased with the progress of the works: “At the moment, there are 11 ongoing excavation fronts. Three TBMs are under way. The number of excavation fronts will increase, as soon as the works on the Sill gorge lot near Innsbruck begin next year,” say the two CEOs Martin Gradnitzer and Gilberto Cardola, who are delighted with the progress of construction.

The Brenner Base Tunnel, the heart of the longest core network corridor established by the EU with the TransEuropean Transport Network, will link northern and southern Europe. This “project of the century” receives 40 to 50% co-financing from the European Union, since it is considered the most important measure in managing the continuously increasing volume of traffic over the Brenner Pass. Last year, over 2.4 million heavy vehicles crossed the Alps there. That is a higher volume of traffic than the four Swiss and two French Alpine passes, taken together, had over the same time period.

Sustainability with a capital S

In 2028, the Brenner Base Tunnel will be open for freight and passenger traffic and, by cutting travel time by almost 70%, will usher in a completely new idea of mobility along the Brenner Corridor. The BBT is also one of the most important environmental protection projects in Europe, because it will not be possible to achieve climate protection goals without railways. A ton of freight travelling by rail produces 21 times less CO2 than the same amount of freight hauled by road; the construction of the BBT will have paid for itself, in terms of emissions, in about 18 years of operations, which is remarkable considering that its service life is about 200 years. There are also numerous environmental compensation measures being carried out alongside the construction work which bring significant added value for both people and their natural habitat.

The unique exploratory tunnel

A particular characteristic of the Brenner Base Tunnel is its third tunnel tube, the so-called exploratory tunnel, meant primarily for geological prospection. This allows better estimates of the rock mass types and allows excavation work to proceed with far less disruption. The excavation work is being carried out half by blasting and half using TBMs. The exploratory tunnel also saves both time and money as a service and logistics tunnel during the construction phase and as a maintenance and drainage tunnel during the operational phase.

The Brenner Base Tunnel as a scientific workshop

The construction phase of this huge project is already proving to be an important testing ground for the exchange of knowledge and experience between companies and organisations in different countries, thus strengthening the concept of Europe itself. A jury of international experts awarded Leopold Franzens University in Innsbruck the contract to establish an endowed professorship for Tunnel Information Modeling, abbreviated in TIM. The goal is to scientifically compile the processes of (deep) underground construction for interdisciplinary digital representation in the planning/design, construction and operations phases.

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