Gotthard Base Tunnel: Driving starts at Erstfeld

There could be no better omen: On exactly December 4, 2007, the day of their patron - saint Barbara - the tunnellers at Erstfeld began mechanical driving. After the Saint Barbara's Day service in Erstfeld church, Tunnel Boring Machine Gabi 1 was ceremonially started on the construction site. Excavating the last section of the Gotthard Base Tunnel has thus now also begun. After 7.2 km, breakthrough to the Amsteg section will take place at the end of 2009.
In parallel with assembly of the tunnel boring machine (TBM), since the end of August 2007 the tunnellers had excavated the first 20 m of the driving tunnel by drilling and blasting. Such starter tunnels are needed for TBMs to brace their grippers against the tunnel walls so they can press their driving force against the rock face. Just like a champion athlete, the boring machine must first warm up. Driving at full power will start in the east tunnel at the beginning of April 2008, and breakthrough will take place in December 2009. The second TBM, Gabi 2, will start driving at full power in the west tunnel in May 2008, with breakthrough expected in February 2010.
Before the ceremonial start-up of the TBM, the tunnellers had celebrated mass in honour of their patron saint, Barbara, in the Catholic church at Erstfeld. Work was also interrupted on the other Gotthard construction sites to celebrate Saint Barbara's Day.
The work at Erstfeld comprises driving the two single-track tunnels of the 7.2-kilometers-long Gotthard Base Tunnel section from Erstfeld to Amsteg, excavation of 23 connecting galleries, and construction of the underground branch-off for subsequent implementation of an underground route in the canton of Uri.