Over 20 years to construct, Over 2’000 workers, Over 2’000 meters deep, Over 200 km/h fast
Next week, the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel – the Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps – will be inaugurated in Switzerland.
The tunnel will span a length of 57 km – with a total tunnel system including shafts and passages of over 150 km – and lays 2’300 meters deep in the mountains. As of December 2016, the tunnel plans to accommodate up to 325 trains per day, with the passenger trains reaching up to 250 km/h thereby reducing travel time between Germany and Italy by 45 minutes.
Since Romania has a certain need of realizing infrastructure projects, I’d like to share with you the story, the cost and the value of this mega-tunnel project which, by the way, covers just about the distance between Comarnic and Brasov.
After a tenfold increase in traffic between Germany and Italy through the Swiss Alps brought the existing tunnels to their capacity limits, the new tunnel was first approved in 1992 in a national referendum.
The work on the project began in 1993 with sounding drills. The actual drilling with over 2’000 workers to construct the tunnel – there are in fact two parallel 57km-tunnels so trains can run in both directions – started in 1999 and was only completed in 2011.
The machine that munched its way through the rock and dirt was as long as 4 football fields. To cut construction time in half, 5 access tunnels were built so that construction could start on different sites. The total cost to date: roughly 10 billion EUR and 9 workers who died in accidents on the project.
The new Gotthard-tunnel might be an engineering masterpiece, but is it worth spending 10 billion EUR to reduce a journey by 45 minutes?
Well, that’s only a direct effect for travelers. Of much more importance are indirect effects or the so called ‘economic multiplier’ of infrastructure projects. Basically, each Euro of infrastructure-spending boosts the economy at least by 2 EUR.
Obviously, it has a strong effect on job creation, but the benefits of infrastructure investment don’t stop at the short-term boost to output and employment. Jean-Michel Six, Chief Economist of Standard & Poor’s says: ‘Over the longer term, improving infrastructure can enhance the private sector’s productivity, for instance, by reducing transport and communication costs. And the resulting economic gains can be significant.’
What’s more, the multiplier increases during an economic downturn from 2 to a factor of 4. That means infrastructure investments offer more value during busts than booms.
Romania has an obvious need to enhance its infrastructure: Inefficient investment in infrastructure has been one of the key factors explaining weak productivity. And just this month, German car producer Daimler has chosen to build its new engine plant in Poland, instead of the Romanian town of Sebes. The investment will amount to 500 million EUR, create about 1’500 jobs.
In light of its natural disadvantage – the proximity to western markets – infrastructure (or lack thereof) is even more decisive for Romania’s further economic success or malaise. After all, despite Romania’s high – but mainly consumer-driven – economic growth in the first quarter of 2016, the number of newly established companies with foreign capital decreased by over 15% in Q1 compared to the same period last year.
Investments in infrastructure-projects could not only help Romania to attract foreign investments. It’s a pre-requisite to establish business ‘clusters’ in high value-add sectors, whereby firms from the same industry gather together in close proximity generating a pool of expertise and skilled workers.
On top of it, wise infrastructure investments are in fact smart anti-cyclical measures who might save the romanian economy, when the current populist and not so very smart pro-cyclical ‘strategy’ has gone up in smoke creating a serious downturn.
Road to success: infrastructure is decisive for Romania’s further economic success.
Moving the rocks of the Alps: one of the four 3 stories high and 400 meter long TBM’s used to built the longest tunnel in the world.
The tunnel has a system of two one-way tubes, linked by emergency escape routes.