ABB electrifies the Gotthard Base Tunnel

2016-06-13 - Referred to as a construction of the century in Switzerland, the Gotthard Base Tunnel was officially opened 1st June

The world’s longest railroad tunnel was officially inaugurated on June 1, 2016 with an act of state. The public event the following weekend attracted 80,000 visitors, 20,000 of which visited the ABB’s technology pavilion.

In addition to increasing freight capacity along the Rotterdam-Basel-Genoa corridor, the Gotthard Base Tunnel will also include regular passenger services that will significantly cut travel time between northern and southern Switzerland. It is a testament to professional engineering and efficiency, with operations now being launched a year ahead of the schedule foreseen in 2008.

At that time, ABB was hired by Balfour Beatty Rail to provide the medium-voltage switchgear- needed to power the Gotthard Base Tunnel’s infrastructure. ABB was able to complete its order within just six years, with the delivery of 924 medium-voltage switchgear cubicles, the 50 Hz technology supplies power for systems that include air conditioning, ventilation, lighting, signaling, communications and safety.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is made up of two parallel tubes, each of which is 57 kilometers in length – 7 km longer than the Channel Tunnel between France and England. Enough rock was excavated from the tunnels to build five new Giza pyramids.

There are cross-passage tunnels – which are also designated as escape routes – between the two tubes every 325 meters, every other one of which is installed with electrical supply systems. This is where ABB comes in: Railroad tunnels come with a myriad of challenges, not the least of which is the fine, powdery dust that rises from the train tracks as they are slowly worn away each time a train speeds over them. Another challenge is the intense change in pressure caused by two high-speed trains passing one another in a tunnel – this results in over and under pressure of up to 10 kPa.

ZX0 gas-insulated switchgear (GIS)
ABB had to make sure its switchgear fit the bill under these special conditions. It looked to its ZX0 gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) as the ideal solution for the Gotthard Base Tunnel, with the modular, very compact and space-saving structure that delivers and distributes energy without interruptions at the highest level of availability.

The fact that the ZX0 is gas insulated, brings with it many advantages. It offers the highest level of safety for railway employees. All live parts are installed completely touch-proof. No gas handling is necessary on site, because all medium-voltage parts are inside a sealed tank gas-tight enclosure, which also protects all components against ageing, reducing the total cost of ownership.

ABB produces its type ZX0 switchgear in Ratingen, Germany, where it enhanced the advantages of the already gas-tight case of the switchgear to meet the challenges posed by the Gotthard Base Tunnel. To this end, it designed the ZX0’s accompanying local control cubicle in accordance with the IP65 protection rating, also making it dust-tight and protected against water jets. The tests on the prototype were successfully carried out in an extensive subterranean testing area in Switzerland.

The ZX0’s pressure strength was also tested successfully, this time at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa). The ZX0 also includes a special pressure relief system to eliminate all risk to human safety in cross-cuts.

To protect, control, measure and monitor the network throughout the entire tunnel, ABB provided one device for all applications in the form of 500 units of the REF542plus feeder terminal. The REF542plus was developed by ABB in collaboration with its customers. It provides a stable, uninterrupted energy supply by quickly locating any fault and immediately transmitting information about the type of fault and its location to the tunnel control system.

The feeder terminal also offers remote services, providing access to stored programs and protective data via Ethernet LAN. Its remote protection is multistage, so that any faulty parts within the network can be switched off individually.

Over a century ago, ABB provided electrification to the original Gotthard Tunnel including power plants, substations, transmission and distribution lines and catenary electrification as well as locomotives.

With so much riding on such a historically significant, landmark project, ABB’s continued dedication to professionalism and innovation is again proving the importance of its added value – not only for the Gotthard Base Tunnel, but also for future projects.

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    ZX0 gas-insulated switchgear (GIS)
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