In this Oct. 31, 2013 file photo construction workers are busy in the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel between Biasca and Amsteg, Switzerland. (Karl Mathis/Keystone via AP, file/Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP, file)
Swiss build world's longest tunnel
June 13, 2016
Just like Hannibal, Swiss engineers have beat the Alps.
It has been more than 2,200 years since the commander from the ancient North African civilization of Carthage led his army of elephants and troops. They traveled over Europe's highest mountain chain. Now Swiss leaders have completed another huge task. And they did it on time. They burrowed through the world's longest railway tunnel under the Swiss Alps. The new tunnel will ease trade and congestion in European trade and travel.
On June 1, Switzerland opened the 35.4-mile Gotthard Railway Tunnel. It is a major engineering achievement deep under snow-capped peaks. The construction was carried out over 17 years at a cost of $12 billion.
Many tunnels crisscross the Swiss Alps. Gotthard Pass already has two. The first was also for trains. It was built in 1882. But the Gotthard Base Tunnel is a record-setter. It eclipses Japan's 53.8-kilometer Seikan Tunnel as the world's longest. It bores deeper than any other tunnel. It runs about 1.4 miles underground at its maximum depth.
The thoroughfare aims to cut travel times. It also aims to ease roadway traffic and draw cargo from pollution-spewing trucks. The trucks travel between Europe's north and south. The tunnel will open for commercial service in December. The two-way tunnel will take up to 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains per day.
Swiss planners have dreamt of such a tunnel for decades. And it should have an impact far beyond Switzerland for decades to come.
Switzerland pulled out all the stops for the opening. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came for a flashy celebration. It featured bands and dancers. The tunnel even has theme song.
The EU turnout is little surprise. The project runs north-south through central Switzerland. It has received financial support and industrial know-how from around the European Union. Switzerland isn't one of the bloc's 28 members. But the EU railway network will get a major boost from the shortcut. It runs through the Alps. This will be notably on the route from Germany to Italy.
"The new tunnel fits into the European railway freight corridor." It links Rotterdam and Genoa, said Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann.
He added that the tunnel will boost access "to these two important ports" in the Netherlands and Italy.
"Aside from saving time, more merchandise can be carried through the Alps," he said.
A glitzy show was held under purple neon lights to mark the event. Performers dressed up in orange miners' suits and protective helmets. They danced atop a moving rail car. Meanwhile, others in costumes pretended to wrestle. Trapeze artists hung from chains or ropes. A band blared out a thumping military march. And helicopters buzzed overhead.
The tunnel runs between the German-speaking Swiss town of Erstfeld in the north and Italian-speaking Bodio in the south. Split-screen TV images showed two trains in opposite directions. The trains entered and left the tunnel entrances nearly at the same time.
A test run by the European leaders turned into a sort of mini-summit. Merkel, Renzi and Hollande climbed aboard in a first-class car. Then they rode through the tunnel. They sat alongside Schneider-Ammann.
A band repeatedly played Rossini's "William Tell Overture" after they arrived.
Merkel said it was a "wonderful feeling" to be on the train. She noted that "more than 2,000 meters of rocks" were above. But, she said that she had a "feeling of security because I believe in the security of the Swiss civil engineers."
"We congratulate Switzerland because they were already so punctual. And also because the costs were kept within targets," she added. "That's something Germany still needs to strive for."
There were as many as 2,400 workers that took part in the project at the peak of construction. The two holes were connected in October 2010. It occurred some 11 years after the first blast to build the tunnel. That blast took place in the last century.
Freight trains will run up to 60 miles per hour in the tunnel. Passenger trains will run twice that fast at first. Long-term goals are for trains to run up to 250 kilometers an hour. The tunnel is to shave 45 minutes off the trip from Zurich to Lugano, Switzerland.
Swiss forces took little chance with security for the opening. Almost 2,000 extra troops were called in to help keep watch. Air space restrictions were put in place in the area.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is it better for trains to go through a tunnel, rather than over the mountains?
Write your answers in the comments section below