Simplon Railway Line

Name of Project:
Simplon Railway Line


Ministry of Transport, Ferrovie dello Stato, District of Milan

Construction period:
1911 - 1951

Historically, the Simplon Pass is an essential crossroads between Italy and Central Europe.

A route travelled for centuries by armies, pilgrims and merchants, the crossroads of the road network during the Napoleonic era, communications through the pass were revolutionized by construction of the railway and the subsequent opening of the railroad tunnel that allows for a direct link between Iselle and Briga.

The tunnel was finished in 1905 and its opening was officially celebrated the following year, becoming, among other things, the inspiring element of the Milan International Fair, dedicated to the theme of the evolution of transportation. At the time, the Simplon Pass was one of the most advanced engineering works: during its excavation pickaxes were replaced by pneumatic drills for the first time, numerous innovations were adopted to guarantee worker safety, and the tunnel could be crossed thanks to the use of three-phase electric motors (the only solution that could avert the risks that the use of steam would have involved in a tunnel almost 20 km long).

The railway tunnel instantly became a basic element in relations between Italy and Europe, and the non-stop rise in railway traffic called for the continuous renewal of the infrastructure. From 1911 Umberto Girola’s company was repeatedly hired to carry out projects for the reconstruction or modernization of the line, with a trust-based relationship constantly confirmed by the Ferrovie dello Stato.

The first jobs were focused on the various service buildings within the scope of the stations closest to the Milan railway line, while in the early 1920s Girola was involved in some of the works linked to the enhancement of the line, the result of the excavation of the second tunnel of the ‘Traforo’ (enlargement of the Preglia and Varzo stations, work to double the line between Domodossola and Iselle for about 20 km, artificial avalanche barrier tunnel in Gabbio Mollo).

After the Second World War the company was awarded a contract for the reconstruction of the lines damaged or destroyed by the war as well as the projects required to complete the electrification. Girola did not fail to intervene even in cases of emergency, such as in the case of the clearing out of a landslide (1,000,000 m³in volume), which in 1951 fell on the line in the San Giovanni area.

Even today the Simplon line represents one of the key railway connections between Milan, France, Switzerland, and Southern Germany, and it is used every day, among others, by the high-speed Cisalpine trains.