Industry developments in Switzerland 11 Jul 2019

Roland Herr, TunnelTalk

After the high demand for the Gotthard and Lötschberg base line railway megaprojects through the Alps, the underground engineering industry in Switzerland has declined in recent years. There is however some hope in the form of discussions in the Swiss Parliament on how to finance infrastructure improvement in Switzerland.

Stefan Maurhofer in discussions
Stefan Maurhofer in discussions

The Swiss Government will spend CHF6.4 billion (about US$6.45 billion) on the railway system to 2025 and another CHF11.9 billion (about US$12.0 billion) to 2035. This is a significant amount to invest in the modernization of the railway system. For road construction, CHF14.8 billion (about US$14.92 billion) is planned to be invested to 2030. With these investments in the next 10 to 15 years, a lot of projects are in the design phase. There are tunnels to modernize, as well as new tunnels to build, such as the 4th Tube Stadelhofen in Zurich, the Brüttener Tunnel in Winterthur, and a second tube of the Gotthard Road Tunnel.

In the meantime, other developments, such as the cargo sous terrain (CST) underground logistics system, are becoming more interesting. CST is a complete digital logistics system that will connect key hubs in Switzerland from 2030 onwards, taking the strain off the road and railway networks, reducing environmental impact, and ensuring the prompt delivery of goods. Also under development is the expansion of CERN in Geneva, which straddles the underground space on the Switzerland-France border.

“The future for tunnelling in Switzerland looks much brighter than two years ago,” Stefan Maurhofer, President of the Swiss Tunnelling Society, told TunnelTalk at the recent Swiss Tunnel Congress in Lucerne.

Lack of Engineers

Although prospects for the industry are looking up, there is also the need to address a lack of talented young engineers in the country. “During the Gotthard and Lötschberg Baseline rail projects, a lot of foreign specialists and engineers were working in Switzerland for the contractors, as well as on the engineering side,” said Maurhofer. “After completing the projects and returning to their home countries, there is no surplus of Swiss engineers. It has become difficult to engage a good tunneller. In addition, Swiss engineers and companies are working abroad and taking Swiss professionals with them and adding to the lack of talent in Switzerland.”

CERN LHC upgrade started in April 2018 and will run until mid-2022
CERN LHC upgrade started in April 2018 and will run until mid-2022

For this reason, the STS is supporting a Young Members (STSym) group. The young members are embedded in the society, although they are not involved in financing or administration. They are able to focus on their tasks, events, and work, supported by the STS.

The STSym President, Jasmin Amberg, attends board meetings, allowing a good exchange of information between the STS and the young members. “We ask the young members what we want to know from them, but we do not tell them what they have to do. They regularly visit job sites, as well as TBM manufacturers or material suppliers, and organise a colloquium at the ETH Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich every year, where they discuss the present tasks for further development,” explained Maurhofer.

“We also try to engage young members to work within our organisation, for example, they organise the Colloquium of the Swiss Tunnel Congress,” continued Maurhofer. “We are working on new strategical goals to change the organisation and much more, where we involve the young members and ask for their ideas and contributions. The young members get the chance to influence today how the organisation may work in the future. We try to involve the young members directly in the daily business of steering the STS.”

Stefan Maurhofer welcomes delegates to STC 2019
Stefan Maurhofer welcomes delegates to STC 2019

International cooperation

This idea of involvement is also carried across into the interaction of the Society with its international partners, particularly its collaboration with the organisations of DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and BEFIPS (Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland). “These two organisations are very important for us,” explained Maurhofer. “For example, at the STC this year we organised the first joint meeting of the DACH and BEFIPS Presidents to agree on strategies to work together.”

At the international level, the STS is also involved as the member nation society in the ITA, the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association. “Here, we focus on the working groups to improve and steer developments in the right direction,” said Maurhofer. “We are not so much interested in the markets. Our focus is more on technology and how to improve underground works and the use of underground space.”

This involvement is particularly important now, as the new Chinese Presidency of the ITA begins. “If this is the beginning of China becoming involved in technical development discussions, this is interesting for us in Europe, because there is a lot going on in China. This is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time,” concluded Maurhofer.

STC 2019

TunnelTalk met Maurhofer at the 18th Swiss Tunnelling Congress which took place in June in Lucerne. The event attracted about 700 participants from nine different countries with the majority from German-speaking Switzerland. The congress and co-located colloquium included presentations representing a mix of Swiss and international projects and developments.


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