New Gotthard rail tunnel, built with Swiss precision

The world's longest rail tunnel (57 km) right through the Gotthard Massif in Switzerland is intended to reduce the journey time from Zurich to Milan by one hour. After its opening next year, the train will offer an attractive alternative to the car and plane. The building consortium* ARGE Fahrbahn Transtec Gotthard (AFTTG) has designed and is installing the ballastless track in the two tunnel tubes and the connection to the existing track. Due to the extremely stringent quality requirements and the difficult working conditions, the project has proved to be anything but a routine job. Relatics provides the information backbone for project management and the execution.

Project director Detlef Obieray has extensive experience in building high-speed lines (HSL), including in the Netherlands. Even so, in his opinion, this project is unique in all respects. “The complexity is in part determined by the combination of technologies that are required to develop and construct the rail system, which meets the highest demands in the area of reliability, availability, maintainability and safety. And everything in a unique environment. With respect to the logistics alone, it is quite a puzzle to work efficiently a long way into two tunnels with limited room and access. Almost everything is custom built. For instance, we could not mix the concrete we needed outside of the tunnel. It would have taken too long for it to arrive where it would be used, because this could be kilometres into the tunnel. So we not only developed special concrete, we also designed a special train that mixed the concrete in the tunnel, allowing it to be quickly poured.”


Production line

To be able to realise the rail system within the specified time and budget, a standardised installation process was developed comprising 21 continuously repeated steps. “We worked with Swiss precision. The project was split into sections with each section taking 19 days to complete. We created a continuous process that looked very much like a production line. Where possible, we used robot technology. The process uses clear definitions for material, employees and performance. Moreover, we monitored and recorded the product quality of each section.” By doing so, AFTTG complied with the contract requirements. “During every phase of the project, from design up to and including completion and handover, we had to be able to demonstrate that we had complied with the original requirements and specifications. Moreover, the commissioning party demanded full traceability of all components at every moment in the building process. The path from requirement to final result had to be completely clear. Incidentally, this was in line with our own need for clarity with respect to progress, costs, safety and quality.”

Grip on the information

Information management plays an important role in this process. “We had to not only collect all of the data from the various information flows, but also to store, manage and make them accessible in a consistent and transparent manner. To do this, RAMS and the V-model from the CENELEC 50126 standard were used.” Based on past experience, Obieray knew that information management concerns much more than just recording and tracing the requirements and the specifications. “Relatics offers the structure to do this in an intelligent and reliable way, including the functionality to make interrelationships clear. This project is a very complex mix of aspects, including planning, logistics, quality management, documentation, risk management, financial management and safety. I therefore knew how important it would be to create an effective project organisation right at the start and to specify both the core and the sub processes. We needed to do this to be able to closely track and check progress to finally achieve the desired final product. In this situation, a reliable and flexible information system is indispensable. It would be unwise to do this using Excel spreadsheets and individual systems. This approach is time consuming, requires many conversion steps and offers no clear view of the interrelationships and no overview. Relatics gives us a grip on all of the information. For instance, there was no internet in the tunnel, however, it was possible to collect test data on site using handhelds. Once outside, the data could directly be synchronised.”


Complete picture

Although Relatics originally came into the picture as a way to record the requirements and specifications and for the verification and validation process, the system developed into the central information tool. “The user-friendly system presents the information, structure and interrelationships in a way that allows all of the processes to be effectively monitored and to test whether everything is progressing according to the quality requirements, to plan and within budget. Consistent information provision is a condition for success. We can closely track all of the process steps and batches and check them in relation to the desired final product. Because we work with 21 defined steps, we can simply link all of the activities, materials and resources to them. Therefore, we also used Relatics for time keeping and as basis for the salary administration. The hours worked were entered after completion of a shift. This made these data available to HR.” The fact that all data were stored in Relatics was also useful for safety management. “Safety had a very prominent position in the project. If any incidents occurred, we immediately had the data concerning the employee involved available. Moreover, the cause, time and consequences, including any project delay, could be uniformly recorded. In this way, we always had a complete picture.”


The materials used and the management of equipment and machines were also entered into Relatics. “By selecting building sections and working with defined process steps, it is continually clear which materials and machines are necessary when. These data are always linked to the process step involved. After completion, we can quickly see whether any differences have arisen. These data are also used to plan and organise the maintenance and inspections of the machines. This allowed us to plan intelligently, and in addition, we always had an up-to-date overview of the costs and progress.”


According to Obieray, the extensive use of Relatics underlines the power and flexibility of the system. “We carefully tailored the system to the specific wishes and requirements of this project. Although we have built up considerable knowledge ourselves, it is nice to be always able to call on the assistance of Relatics. The Relatics consultants understand the construction process, speak our language and know what is required to complete a complex project where the focus is on quality and safety. Incidentally, the fact that it was not only us who were satisfied with our information environment became clear during the ISO-9000 audit. We realised this certification relatively easily because all of the information and processes are transparently recorded in Relatics. The independent auditors were surprised about the professional and logical set-up of the processes and the information structure.”

*The AFTTG building consortium consists of Balfour Beatty Rail and Renaissance Construction