Located in the middle of the Alps, and the lowest of the Alpine passes (1,371 metres above sea level), the Brenner pass has always been a crucially-important transport corridor for Europe. The pass now takes a third of all traffic that crosses the Alps.

The current Brenner railway line has now reached a high level of saturation and there is also great pressure from local groups and government to transfer onto rail the heavy traffic which currently mainly circulates by road along the Brenner motorway, with a significant impact in terms of atmospheric and noise pollution.

The Brenner base tunnel will cover a distance of around 55 km between the stations of Fortezza (in the province of Bolzano) and Innsbruck (Austria), where it will enter the tunnel of the existing loop route, reaching an overall length of 64km.

From Verona to Fortezza, the southern entrance to the base gallery, the existing line – which is about 180km long – will be quadrupled in successive, functional stages to ensure that it has at least the same level as the rest of the Verona – Monaco axis.

The aims 

To increase the quantity and quality of what the railway has to offer, a new railway line is currently be constructed to cross the pass: the Brenner Base Tunnel – which is the responsibility of the European company BBT “Brenner Base Tunnel – Brennero Basistunnel” – which, together with boosting the Verona-Fortezza access line from the south, made by RFI, is an integral part of the TEN-T Scandinavian-Mediterranean European Core Corridor, linking Helsinki and La Valletta, or through Central Europe, the Tyrrhenian ridge and the main Sicilian cities.

The network capacity will be increased by over 50%, and the weight which can be taken by rail will be increased by 80%, and while running speed, regularity and punctuality standards will be increased.

Principal technical characteristics

Brenner Base Tunnel

  • two, single-track tunnels, one going each way, linked between each other every 333 metres by transversal minor tunnels
  • distance from Fortezza to Innsbruck: 55 km
  • distance from Fortezza to Tulfes: 64 km
  • maximum gradient in the tunnel: 6.7 ‰
  • planned speed: 160 km/h for freight trains, 250 km/h for passenger trains

Fortezza – Verona Line

  • overall distance: around 180 km
  • planned speed: 200 - 250 km/h
  • maximum gradient: 12 ‰

Expected benefits

A key aspect to allow the new performance will be the radical reduction of the maximum gradient: this will be restricted to a maximum of 6.7‰ in the Brenner Base Tunnel, and to 12‰ on the Fortezza-Verona line, where the existing infrastructure shows gradients that reach 26‰ in the pass and 22‰ between Fortezza and Verona, limit train speed to 60km/h on the most windy sections. 

With the new construction works, the flows of freight traffic can be separated from passenger traffic and also long-distance from local trains, with enormous advantages to people who travel.

Local public transport can take place on the historic line in a more efficient, fast and regular way, while in the new tunnel section from Fortezza to Innsbruck, which is 20 km shorter than the existing route, the time used to change locomotives – which are currently different in Italy and Austria – will disappear, cutting by a third the journey time for the fastest trains: from 75 minutes currently, to 25 minutes.

For freight, line specialisation will mean an increase in the traffic from the north coming to the Verona Hub, which also means a significant impact on the rail/road Quadrante Europa intermodal terminal, which is increasingly important to the workings of the Italian and European logistics system, since it lies at the intersection of two European TEN-T corridors, the Scandinavian-Mediterranean and the Mediterranean, as well as the two motorways, the Brenner (heading North-South) and the Serenissima (heading East-West).

Environmental implications

The technical-construction characteristics of the new rail link, which are especially linked to the drastic restriction of the gradients and the underground section of the line between Verona and Innsbruck, will allow mitigation of the sound impact from heavy goods traffic, as well as reducing locomotive energy consumption by up to 40%, with a parallel reduction in COemissions.

The qualitative and quantitative improvement in what rail has to offer freight transport, together with the greater accessibility of the terminals in the north of Italy which will come from new railway lines coming into operation, will contribute to the goals set by the European Union White Paper on Transport: the transfer of 30% of freight traffic deliveries of over 300km onto rail, with 50% by 2050.

Investment and timetable

The cost through its lifespan of the Brenner Base Tunnel is 8.8 billion euros, financed in equal parts by Italy and Austria. Part of it is also co-financed 40%, and another part 50% by the European Union.

The overall financial investment in the Verona - Fortezza line (the priority tranches) is five billion euros. The first digging work in the Brenner Base Tunnel began in 2008. Work is due to start on the Sud Fortezza - Ponte Gardena line in 2018. The work, including the Italian access lines, will be finished by 2026.

Progress of construction work 

Since the beginning of work in 2008 excavation work has been carried out for over 62 of the 230 km total for constructing the Brenner Base Tunnel. The details of the stage work is at on the access line from the south are as follows:

Section 1: in its session on 3rd March 2017, the CIPE approved the definitive project of section 1, Fortezza-Ponte Gardena. The line will need around seven years' work and will be completed at the same time as the Brenner Base Tunnel in 2026.

Section 2: the preliminary project has been executed.

Section 3: meetings with local bodies to update the project are taking place.

Section 4: the preliminary planning which has been developed is being revised and the end part is being integrated so as to improve overall functioning of access to the hub; in-depth project details are also being developed so as to optimise the impact on traffic flow in the Municipality of Verona, keeping down costs and completion times.

Workers employed 

In the BBT work sites in both Italy and Austria, employment peaks will be reached with 2,000 workers employed as well as around 200 technicians who are involved in project management and support services (environmental monitoring, topography, etc.).

The Brenner Base Tunnel

The Brenner Base Tunnel will be made up of three tunnels: two main, single-track tunnels around 60 metres from one another – and linked every 333 metres by lateral tunnels – and a test tunnel between the two main ones, and 12 metres lower.

In total the Brenner Base Tunnel envisages the construction of 230 kilometres of tunnels and shafts made by the European BBT company “Galleria di base del Brennero – Brennero Basistunnel BBT SE”, which is 50%-owned by the Austrian company “ÖBB Infrastrukture” and by the Italian company TFB. The latter is controlled by Rete Ferroviaria Italiana S.p.A., which is the majority shareholder and also has the Autonomous Province of Bolano, the Autonomous Province of Trent and the Province of Verona as shareholders. The execution of the project has been broken down into 6 stages, which are divided from north to south as follows, and have progressed as follows:

in Austria

  • Tulfes – Pfons: the northernmost section of the work, which is currently in progress. It includes around 39 km of tunnels including the emergency tunnel in the loop around Innsbruck.
  • Pfons – Brenner: the section, which is currently at the bidding stage, calls for the creation of around 67 km of tunnels and secondary tunnels.

in Italy

  • Mules 2-3: is the longest section of the Brenner Base Tunnel, and calls for the construction of around 69 km between the Brenner and Mules and from Mules up to the end of the section and the beginning of that which goes under the Eisack River.
  • Section under the Eisack River: this includes the section of the Base Tunnel which, passing along the bottom of the Eisack Valley, goes on for 6 km and will go under the river and existing rail and road infrastructure (the SS12 main road, the Brenner railway, the Brenner motorway).

Access line from south (Verona- Fortezza)

The access line from the south represents the quadrupling of the current railway which is largely unchanged from the current route. There are four priority sections which will be made by RFI:

  • Fortezza - Ponte Gardena segment (section 1). The project calls for the creation of a new section of railway, of around 25 km, of which 22 will be in tunnels, from the Fortezza interconnection to the Ponte Gardena station. The two new tunnels will be joined by a line section carried by a viaduct over the Eisack River. The maximum gradient will be reduced from the current 22‰ to 12‰.
  • Rail loop around Bolzano (section 2). The rail loop will mean that freight and passenger traffic can be separated (regional and medium-long distance). The deviation will also mean goods traffic can be kept away from the town of Bolzano.
  • Rail loops around Trent and Rovereto (section 3). The rail loops will mean that freight and passenger traffic can be separated (regional and medium-long distance). The shunting yard will also mean that goods traffic can be kept away from the urban areas of Trent and Rovereto. The new line will start at Roncafort, around the Trent interport, to connect to the existing line in the Marco area, south of Rovereto, after around 30 km. Two dual-track tunnels (one of around 12 km, the other of around 17 km) will also be built.
  • Northern entrance to the Verona railway hub (section 4). The new rail section, of around 9.5 km, will be partly laid next to the existing line, and part in a variant from the line. Design of the work is currently being revised and integrated into the terminal section so as to improve the overall functioning of access to the hub.