From bottleneck to double track.
In 2012, the line between Lucerne station and Kriens Mattenhof was taken out of service and replaced by a new double-track tunnel. One last bottleneck has remained since then: the approach to Lucerne station is still only single-track from Langensand bridge. By the end of 2021, the approach to Lucerne station will be upgraded to double-track. Stephan Simioni, Zentralbahn’s client representative, shows us the construction site.
The introduction of the double track at Lucerne station is currently one of Zentralbahn’s biggest construction projects. This major project will allow for an increase in capacity, more stable operations and a more comfortable journey for passengers. Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is undertaking the overall project on behalf of Zentralbahn. Stephan Simioni, Head of Facilities and Real Estate, is responsible for overall management in collaboration with Yass Röhricht, project manager at SBB, and represents Zentralbahn as the client with the contractor SBB. “Numerous SBB facilities are affected and need to be adapted. And the interfaces to other areas of SBB are versatile, so they can be handled more easily. Given our limited resources, it’s very difficult for us to manage this major project ourselves, so we need support. With its experience in large-scale projects, SBB can provide that support.”
People and building
Simioni takes us patiently through the project meeting. He and the project team know how to deal with challenging circumstances. You can tell that he really enjoys working with people. “I’m a generalist, I have a wide range of interests and I love the interaction you get in a good team.” Team is a good word here: for him, it’s clear that the crew on site is doing a terrific job and giving everything they’ve got every day to finish the building work on time. “Building is a core theme that has been with me since my childhood. My grandfather, my father and my brother worked and still work in the construction industry or on the railways.” The Zentralbahn client representative is used to the construction environment. He was already working on railway projects while still studying, for example on the cross-city line in Zurich.
Back from the meeting, Simioni shows the impact of Zentralbahn’s double-track extension at Lucerne station on the construction site: “An area the size of three football pitches is being rebuilt here. Whatever you touch, there’s a chain reaction. The future double track will cross several shunting tracks. Existing points and tracks need to be adapted, with 41 points being dismantled and 34 new points installed. A total of four kilometres will be dismantled, including seven sidings at the old main station. I’m delighted that our project organisation is working so well and that we can count on competent planners and contractors to meet all these challenges.” The costs are enormous, estimated at CHF 72 million. The high price is due to the level of complexity involved in making the construction project a reality. The double-track expansion is being financed by “Expansion step 2025”, part of the Confederation’s strategic development programme.
His enthusiasm for railways and for large rail construction works is palpable. Like many people, his interest in rail was sparked as a child. As the youngest, he enjoyed many train journeys with his father, and there was of course a model railway down in the cellar. Today, he appreciates the wide range of public transport services available and how easy they are to use. “I can simply get on any time, sit back and relax as I travel, and there are no traffic jams. When I’m travelling for my job, I use the journey time for my work.” The places where he lives and works are within sight of each other. Stephan Simioni, who lives in the city of Lucerne with his wife and two children, is fond of Switzerland’s city of lights. “Being close to the water and the mountains is marvellous. Lucerne has a great deal to offer, it isn’t too big, and we like that.”
Why is a double track needed?
When he’s asked why a double track is needed, the answer comes straight away: “For customers, the double track means a wider range of services, very punctual trains and more comfort. The rebuilding has allowed us to reduce the number of crossings with the standard gauge, and the entry and exit points to and from Lucerne station will be quieter in future. With this investment, we’re also strengthening our position as the backbone of the Lucerne–Lucerne Süd transport axis. That’s because it’s situated in an urban area that has undergone major development in recent years and will continue to grow in the future.”
The figures for Lucerne Süd are also exciting, with 8,000 new residents expected, 7,000 additional jobs created and 2,000 university places on offer. To meet the growing demand, Zentralbahn’s services will include a planned new Lucerne–Horw S-Bahn line (S41) starting with the upcoming timetable change. A requirement for the introduction of the S41 line is the continuous double track in Lucerne between Langensand bridge and the Zentralbahn station tracks.
The challenges during construction
What was once a marshy area before the first railway station was built (1856–1859) is now the station throat area. That makes this a challenging construction site. When you sink a shovel into the ground, you’ll often hit water. “We have to lower the water level locally using the so-called wellpoint method, where vacuum pumps siphon off water and collect it in a basin, before then feeding it into the subsoil drainage system,” says Simioni. Despite these and other challenges, the work is proceeding according to plan. A lot of work around the existing operations tracks was completed in the summer, and the actual double track will be installed in autumn so that the double track can be put into operation in December 2021.
Because rail operations are continuing at the same time, the logistics of this construction project are challenging and complex: trucks bringing in building materials and removing rubble, trains arriving and departing, power in the overhead lines – all have to be coordinated by the site managers and contractors. And that makes the work time-consuming. There are around 25 workers at a time on site every day from Monday to Friday, moving the construction work forward. At peak times, there are three shifts working over six days.
Dusk has now descended and the construction floodlights are beginning to come on. Another shift is starting. For Simioni, the end of the working day is not far off. Tomorrow is dad day. “One day a week with the children gives me rest and relaxation, a change and a completely different challenge.” Although family life keeps him very busy, he still finds time for his sporting interests. Since 2013, he has been on the organising committee of the SWISSMAN Xtreme Triathlon, where he’s responsible for race management and finances. He takes off his work clothes, hangs them up in the site container, packs his bike bag, says goodbye and races off.
Impressions of the construction site in Lucerne
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