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Swiss Metro: Travel below the alps in a Subway-Torpedo

Via subway to Italy? Why shouldn't something that is perfectly functioning in the city, also work in the country? Soon the "Swissmetro" could connect cities below grade with up to 600 km/h in Switzerland. Scheduled traveling time for 104 kilometers from Zürich to Bern: 12 minutes!

The Swissmetro could be traveling with up to 600 km/h under the alps
Picture by Swiss Metro

Soon Switzerland could get holes like the famous Swiss cheese: If everything works out for the planners of the "Swissmetro", than by middle of this century the metropolitan areas Zürich, Bern, Lausanne, Geneva und St. Gallen should be connected through a Tunnel system, that is breathtaking in the true sense of the word. A maglev train without wheels should, similar to the already activated Transrapid in Shanghai release the aboveground commuter traffic in a low pressure-duct of 6 meters.

The advantages of the idea are evident: Traffic jams, accidents, weather capers and a lot more force the traffic planers to perennially new extensions. Bigger tunnels have to be dug for the traffic, bridges are rebuilt or broadened. Speedier railway systems are run, which have to be protected by game fences and only save a few minutes time as well. All of that is becoming more and more costly through environmental regulations, mile long winding detours and abutter oppositions. A long-distance-subway would not only be environmentally sound compared to present traffic systems, it could also be dug dead straight, like an air-line distance of a plane in a depth of a 100 meters (under the groundwater table), because neither mountains nor difficult site would present an additional barrier.

Swissmetro-Vice President Dr. Vincent Bourquin in the Interview: "Digging such a tunnel system over hundreds of kilometers is naturally not so cheap. But according to an international study the Swiss metro system is more beneficial over long distances than freeways and railway lines with all their constructional and legal problems."

 Passengers of the Swissmetro travel like in a Torpedo in a plane-like pressurized cabin
Picture by Swiss Metro

Once built, such a subway could not only snow-and ice-free outrank the traditional Swiss railway, but also rank before aircrafts with half of a sonic speed on short distances. Dr. Vincent Bourquin: "Our Vacuum-Metro and the aircraft are quite alike in many points: During normal air pressure in the tunnel sections our wheel-less Railway-Torpedo would be on the way with approximately 200 km/h. If one reduces the air pressure, lowers the air resistance, in such a way that a partial-vacuum is produced, the train can be much faster – with up to 600 km/h. Airplanes take advantage of the same trick by ascending into huge height, because the air pressure is lower there. There aircrafts fly speedier and save more fuel as well. Therefore the Swissmetro would be provided with the same over centuries proved pressurized cabins for passengers as an airplane."

Austria is not as dense populated as Switzerland, but also here such an idea could be interesting, especially because in the alpine-area it is hard to make extensions, yet the area is protection-worthy. Already some years ago they started thinking about such a project, to unburden the Transit route on the Brenner to Italy. But it failed because of the little interest of investors. Now, the Swiss have the edge on here probably. (

Every 15 kilometers mine shafts would lead to aboveground vacuum pumps in the Swissmetro.
Picture by Swiss Metro

Vincent Bourquin: "Technically neither the tunnel nor the subway are a problem nowadays: Circa every 15 kilometers there would be a small station for the vacuum pumps, which provide the low pressure in the thermion system. The necessary preventive maintenances would be less, since the magnetic system is working contact-less in suspension. Austria has yet very excellent tunnel construction experts, who for example accomplish superior work in the course of the subway extension in Vienna now. Naturally we hope, Austrian engineers take part and share their know-how in building the Swissmetro, if we are ready for takeoff so far. Such a new project needs courage beside money. – Courage to rethink and a good deal of pioneering spirit. Nowadays that is not so easy to find anymore, as in times, as here in Switzerland the legendary Gotthard-Tunnel was dug."

The inhabitants of Serfaus (Tirol) already showed courage and pioneering spirit on the mole's traces, when they decided to build a subway on air-bag basis through the place, in order to relief traffic during winter tourism. Many a mountain farmer then shook his head, and the cows in the barn didn’t stand the drilling noise. Since then village roads that are blocked up by tourist-cars belong to the past finally. Over four stations the village-subway is able to transport 2000 persons per hour today. And at the beginning of the year, one already celebrated the 20-years jubilee of Austria's second subway system (after Vienna).

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© A report by Tobias Micke (02-04-06) – Contact