The new Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland is the world’s longest train tunnel running at 57 km long under the Alps. It took 17 years to build and replaces Japan’s 53.9km Seikan tunnel
The world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel, Gotthard Base Tunnel, opened in Switzerland on Wednesday, nearly seven decades after it was first proposed and 17 years after construction began with a blast in the main shaft.
The $12 billion project was completed on time.
The tunnel is expected to help cut travel time between Zurich and Milan, and ferry twice the roughly 9,000 people currently traveling between northern and southern Europe on the route within the next decade. Moreover, the amount of goods carried through the route is expected to increase to 260 trains daily from about 160.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel — a record-setting 57 km long (35-mile), and farther below ground than any other tunnel — was inaugurated by Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann.
Speaking from the north portal in Rynächt, canton Uri, the prime minister said: “Today is an historic day for our country. We have completed the Gotthard Base Tunnel, an epic feat of engineering, a project that has involved generations, from the first sketches, to the planning and construction of the tunnel. I feel extremely proud, but also quite humble.”
Religious leaders blessed the tunnel; a statue of St. Barbara, the patron saint of miners, stands inside it. Nine workers who died while building the tunnel were honored on Tuesday with a bronze plaque. Five hundred passengers, selected from a lottery that 130,000 people entered, took part in the inaugural ride.
European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi then made the trip on the first official journey on the line.
The project was passed by Swiss voters in a referendum in 1992 after their support to a proposal from environmental groups to move all goods travelling through Switzerland from road to rail two years later. The completed tunnel goes up to 1.4 miles below the surface of the mountains and through rock that reaches temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 Fahrenheit).
Engineers had to dig and blast through 73 different kinds of rock, some as hard as granite and others as soft as sugar. More than 28m tonnes of rock were excavated, which was then broken down to help make the concrete used to build the tunnel. It took 15 years to build and replaces Japan’s 53.9 km Seikan tunnel.
The tunnel’s course is flat and straight instead of winding up through the mountains like the old rail tunnel and a road tunnel opened in 1980. About 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will pass through the tunnel each day in a journey taking as little as 17 minutes.
Gotthard has been a symbol of Swiss unity going back to the 13th century, and it was later the centerpiece of Switzerland’s plan of defense in case of an invasion by Nazi Germany, although that never happened. It was also the home of a 19th-century engineering feat in the Alps, a rail tunnel that opened in 1882 to great fanfare.
Gotthard Base Tunnel in numbers:
- Length: 57km
- Total length of tunnels: 151.8km
- Diameter of rail tunnels: 8.5m
- Excavated rock: 28.2 million tonnes
- Workforce: up to 2,600
- Max speed in tunnel: 250kph
- Cost: £8.41 billion