6 June 2012

A fatal rockslide in Switzerland with major economic impacts

Posted by Dave Petley

On Tuesday a rockslide occurred on the main Gotthard railway line in Switzerland, killing a railway worker and injuring two others.  This image, from here, shows the landslide scar and deposit:


According to this report, the site of the accident suffered from a 400 cubic metre rockfall event in March.  As a result, there were ongoing engineering works to stabilise the slope.  This interpretation is supported by images of the site, which appear to show scaffolding against the rock face:


This landslide had an estimated volume of about 2500 cubic metres.  Recovery operations are being hampered by continued instability on the rock face, with an estimated 500 cubic metres of rock remaining in an unstable state.  The track is expected to remain blocked for up to two weeks.

This landslide is likely to have major short-term economic impacts as the Gotthard Railway is one of the most important railway lines in Switzerland, carrying both freight and passengers between northern Switzerland and Italy:

Of course landslides on railway lines are not unusual, but rarely cause both loss of life and such large-scale economic impacts.

Thanks to James Glover, a PhD student at Durham, for his help with this post.