Master of Advanced Studies in

MIC website


The Alptransit Consortium - CS EN


The author presents the challenges of an intercultural and interlinguistic collaboration on a project involving several professional disciplines.

AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd was founded on May 12, 1998. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Swiss Federal Railways (SFR) with Headquarters in Lucerne and branch offices in Altdorf, Sedrun, Faido, Bellinzona. AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd is the constructor of the Gotthard axis of the New Rail link through the alps with base tunnels through the Gotthard, Zimmerberg, and Ceneri.

The construction work itself is carried out by consortia of different contractors. They are creating a flat rail link from north to south. The heart of this new transalpine rail route is the 57 km Gotthard Base tunnel (the world’s longest). There are 7 subsections as shown in the picture above. Consortium Tat Faido is responsible for the construction of the multifunction station in Faido.

Leitstelle is the place I work as a security agent and is at the access tunnel of the multifunction station and the place in which the safety of the workers is controlled. The people who work there are from a safety company and in case of emergency do the necessary steps to call the Ambulance, the Police or the Firemen.

The equipment is controlled, everybody has to have a badge, helmet, safety jacket, and appropriate shoes. There are monitors of the facilities like pumps and ventilators. These are controlled remotely from here. The miners down in the tunnel call Leitstelle to switch off the ventilators before a blasting and switch on after a blasting. The people work 24 hours on 24, in four shifts that rotate 10 days work, 4 days free. The schedule is from 6 to 14, from 14 to 22, from 22 to 6. The 4 shifts are organized in languages: two groups in German one in Italian and one that is mixed. There are people from Austria, Germany, and Italy, some from the Italian part of Switzerland and some of the Swiss-German part. There are several technical employees, electricians, truck drivers, mechanicals, technicians, and miners. Miners are a special kind of worker, they usually follow family tradition, the sons of miner are also the miner. It is a strong link to the family to do the same job for further generations.

The main languages are German and Italian, but dialects are also important. Sometimes it happens that people don’t speak both languages, so they speak English together. Leitstelle is one of few places where both languages and dialects are spoken and understood. (Austrian is the most difficult for me!)

I had the chance to hear different moods…

The main problem with this kind of big projects, and everywhere in companies, is the interaction between workers of different cultures and different levels of the organization. The general reproach is that they work differently. The competencies are different and as always happens the general feeling everybody has is that “I do everything because nobody else does anything”. Mobbing is also a big issue. The members of one country stick together against new people or sensitive people. I guess that the mixed group encounters different problems.

Stereotypes and prejudices are everyday elements of confrontation. The first thing to do is to improve the understanding of other cultures and how to work with them, which should be a personal challenge for everyone and an improvement of the working conditions and production. Then to explain that misunderstanding is normal and knowing each other is the best way to improve comprehension. It is important to point out the differences between some people during the adaptation process. Some people are reluctant to learn the other language or have difficulties, Italian and German are really different languages. Some of them don’t have the motivation to learn another language because they work together in the same speaking-groups (almost). Another aspect to take into account is the fact that everybody, as the turn finishes, goes back in the country from where he comes from every ten days. The possibility to integrate to the local country’s people is extremely rare. When I ask somebody if the multiculturality can be a problem they usually answer that it is not. Most of the people are not even aware of the possible difficulties between two or more cultures.

It is a millennium project: that means a big opportunity for everybody to be there and contribute to the construction of the longest railway tunnel in the world, the connections between north and south will be shortened. Working for a big project creates a network of knowledge.

The social security and the safety in the tunnel go together. There is a possibility to gain more money because of the conditions of work (humidity, under the earth) on one side, on the other safety rules guarantee better conditions as 100 years ago.

The particular corporate structure (a consortium of 4 enterprises a direction of work above composed of two companies) can create communication problems as the languages used.

The working method is very technical and needs both attention and expertise on an informal and formal level.

Miner has family traditions, the father and the son are both miners, nowadays these traditions still exits and are an important factor in decreasing working power in this branch.

As the construction is on the Swiss territory we have several political assets and legislation to follow (federalism: the power to the regions and municipalities, under a common legislation of the state).

All these points and probably other more, are important because they influence people. They influence “capability”. If in the future the transport of people will be addressed to airplanes, generations of miner don’t have the possibility to develop their ability.

My proposition for Alptransit (Consortium TAT) is to raise awareness of all the features that multiculturalism and the structure of society offer and brings. In most of the cases, the potentiality is not recognized. It may be an asset to enhance productivity and better relationships between workers rise satisfaction. The principle of a communication that ends with the score win-win is the main asset to put on.

The problem here is a bit different as with Children of /on the street. A child is more manipulative and can be used. Workers are adult people that are able to defend themselves. The central point could be also, in this case, the possibility to be listened to. In most of the cases when somebody complains about a colleague, he is not taken seriously. A useful tool for people who want to listen could be the following system (R. Lucchini, D. Stoeklin):

After having discussed these five elements with the person concerned it will be possible to see in which way some of the problems can be solved if the person wants to solve if not there is the possibility to displace the worker in another group, or with other colleagues.
“Intercultural communication is at best intercultural dialogue, a jointly traveled path towards learning and understanding, respect and responsibility. Different opinions become a source for a new solution, and culture turns into a valuable resource. Intercultural dialogue is our chance to make the difference.” Liisa Salo-Lee

The goal is to avoid this: