June 2002

The St. Gotthard Pass plays an important role in Swiss transportation. It is the directest way to travel from the northern side of the Alps to the southern side.

St. Gotthard Pass
St. Gotthard Pass

Saint Gotthard 

Information from Encyclopedia.com
“(sant got´herd, got´erd) , mountain group of the Lepontine Alps, S central Switzerland, rising to Pizzo Rotondo (10,472 ft/3,192 m high). The Reuss, Rhine, Ticino, and Rhône rivers rise there. It is crossed by the Saint Gotthard Pass, 6,935 ft (2,114 m) high. The pass, first extensively used in the 11th cent., has been important since then. It is crossed by the St. Gotthard Road (built 1820-30). The St. Gotthard Railway (built 1872-80), which links the northern and southern parts of Switzerland, passes through St. Gotthard Tunnel (9 14 mi/15 km long; maximum alt. 3,786 ft/1,154 m), one of the longest Alpine tunnels. A second, 31-mi (50-km) rail tunnel is planned; it is expected to be completed in 2010. The Saint Gotthard Road Tunnel was opened in 1980; 10 mi (17 km) long and with a capacity of 1,500 vehicles per hour, it has greatly improved road transportation between Switzerland and Italy. A fiery crash in 2001 closed the road tunnel for two months.”

When I was a child I remember the narrow winding road called the ‘Tremola’ that lead down from the top of the mountain to Airolo. Of course, I always got car sick with all those turns.


Nowadays, that road can still be used, but it has been replaced by a new modern road with easy curves. The 3rd option is the tunnel through the mountain. Check out the picture I took in the tunnel.

On our way to Lucerne by train we traveled again through the St. Gotthard tunnel. This time is was the train tunnel. The view from the train from Bellizona up the Ticino Valley to Airolo was wonderful. It gave us a beautiful view of the viaducts for the Autobahn from below. When traveling by car it is hard to see over the sides of the road to realize just how hight above the ground one is traveling.

Traveling over the St. Gotthard Pass by car is also a lot of fun. There is much less traffic than through the tunnel. There were people fishing in the lake and others got ready to go for a hike along the many routes.

Once through the train tunnel on the northside of the Alps in the German speaking part of Switzerland the train goes through a series of ‘Kehrtunnels’ to decend. Here is an easy explanation from Gruezi im Zugerland.

“The construction of tracks, bridges and tunnels caused a lot of engineering skills, some hard negotiations, international agreements. Nearly 150 workers lost their life (most of them were Italians). Near the Airolo railway station there is a memorial.

Technically at the time of construction of the railway line many things have never been done before. The main tunnel was the longest ever built. In order to keep the slope below the acceptable 3 %, “Kehrtunnels” (360° tunnels with 300m radius and 3% gradient) were built. The ascent from Erstfeld to Goeschenen is about 630 m over a distance of about 19 km. From Airolo to Biasca it’s a descent of 800 m on a distance of 36 km.”

Church at Wassen
Church at Wassen

The pretty little church is probably world known. Three times it will catch your eyes. At first it can be seen high up. Then in a 360° tunnel the train changes the direction and is driving back towards Erstfeld. The church appears now about level with the railway track. But then the train changes direction again in other “Kehrtunnel” and after that, the church will appear far below.” 

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