Arlberg Tunnel - An engineering masterpiece

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Austria is a relatively small country with developed road and railway infrastructures. The most convenient way to explore this country located in the heart of Europe is by the car or train. The terrain in Austria is highly mountainous; lying within the Alps, two quarter of the country is above 500 m, therefore in order to connect the country numerous tunnels had to be built. It is very rare that you travel in Austria without passing through at least one tunnel.

In numbers it is 440 railway tunnels with a total length of 545 kilometres, 212 are single-track structures 350 kilometres long and 142 double-track tunnels with a total length of 195 kilometres.

At the total length of 2179 kilometres of express roads in Austria 344 km or 16 percent are tunnels. Only on express roads there are 182 tunnels. I will dedicate this article to one of the most important railway and road tunnels in Austria.

The Arlberg Road Tunnel

With a length of 13,972 meters, or 15,537 meters including adjoining galleries, the Arlberg Road Tunnel is the longest road tunnel in Austria. It connects the Austrian provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg under the Mt. Arlberg. With the increase in vehicle traffic, especially with the development of ski tourism in the 20th century, the road leading over Arlberg pass had become inadequate. So it was decided to build a road tunnel between Langen and St. Anton, which would also offer safer and alternative without snow to the pass road. From 1974 to 1978, the 14-kilometer-long Arlberg road tunnel and the Arlberg expressway S 16 were built. The tunnel actually consists of two tunnels and on both sides adjoining galleries. The tunnel is equipped with the 43 traffic-monitoring cameras, emergency telephones, 16 niches and eight connecting tunnels with a length of 150 m to 300 m to maximize safety. The use of the tunnel is subject to special tolls. A single journey by car costs 10.00 Euro. Arlberg Road Tunnel is one of the outstanding attractions of the country. It is used by over 18 million people annually.

The Arlberg Railway Tunnel

Almost one hundred years older brother of the Arlberg road tunnel was built between 1879 and 1884. The railway tunnel with its 10,648 meter length was the longest railway tunnel in Austria for 110 years. At the beginning the tunnel was served by the steam engines what proofed to be the problem. Because in the days when there was no wind, exchange of air was difficult and a dangerous sulphuric acid vapour was formed at the top of the tunnel. The locomotive crew in order to overcome this danger, needed to lie at the floor of the locomotive while driving through congested area to get some air. They also breathed through the cloth soaked in vinegar. Later on the locomotive was equipped with a protective device, which allowed them to inhale oxygen at any time. With the start of electrical operation 40 years after opening this problem was eliminated once and for all.

The Arlberg road tunnel and the Arlberg railway tunnel is one single complex. The tunnels are interconnected for the safety reasons; the minimum distance between them is 150 meters.


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The author

Ogi Savic

Ogi Savic

I am Ogi. A journalist and economist, I live in Vienna and I am passionate about skiing, traveling, good food and drinks. I write about all these aspects (and more) of beautiful Austria.

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