SWISS TRANSPORT officials were this week expected to announce that the 16km St Gotthard road tunnel will reopen before Christmas following a fire which killed 11 motorists in October.
The move comes after growing concern about safety in other Alpine tunnels following massive increases in traffic volumes since the St Gotthard closure.
It took fire fighters 36 hours to bring the St Gotthard blaze under control following a head on collision between two lorries (NCE 1 November).
It was originally feared the tunnel would be closed until well in to next year, but surveys over the past two weeks have revealed damage was not as great as first feared.
Engineers have since been working round the clock to repair the tunnel, a vital link between northern and southern Europe.
Traffic levels in the nearby San Bernardino tunnel have risen six fold since the crash.
Officials fear this could lead to a further disaster, so are keen for the St Gotthard to open quickly.
The alternative route via the San Bernardino tunnel has been put under extra pressure because of the knock on effects of the closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel on the French-Italian border following a fire which killed more than 40 people in 1999.
Swiss officials have still to finalise details of restrictions on traffic using the reopened St Gotthard tunnel. Only allowing lorries to travel through the tunnel in one direction at a time, and with a gap of at least 150m between them, are options considered likely.