Almost two decades after engineers set down to boring beneath the Swiss Alps, the world’s longest tunnel officially opens on Wednesday.
And with characteristic Swiss punctuality, this major engineering feat has been completed on schedule.
“The tunnel along Europe’s main rail line that connects the ports of Rotterdam in the north to Genoa in the south snakes through the mountains as much as 1.5 miles below daylight and through rock as hot as 46 degrees Celsius (114.8°F),” The Daily Mail writes.
“At this point the rail route goes over the pass in a series of loops and tunnels. The new flat route means even heavy trains will need only one locomotive rather than two or three.”
Construction teams had to dig and blast through 73 kinds of rock as hard as granite and as soft as sugar. It took 43,800 hours of non-stop work by 125 labourers rotating in three shifts. Three of them died in the process.
It is a project the Swiss are immensely proud of. Switzerland’s transport minister, Doris Leuthard,said she is especially happy that her country can contribute something so important to the European economy.
The ultimate goal is a high-speed rail link, with the Gotthard at its heart, connecting Rotterdam to Genoa.
“We are a small country, we are landlocked,” she told reporters, “and we know co-operation is key, and this is a very nice project of co-operation… I think it is very important for Europe.”
“I think it symbolizes what Europe, and what Swiss engineers can do… and they did a fantastic job.”
For the engineers themselves, the opening of the tunnel is going to be a little strange, admits the head of construction company Alptransit, Renzo Simoni,
“Well, it’s a milestone,” he says, “and of course all of us who worked on it are proud.
“But on the other hand things will be different… the tunnel will be handed over to the railways, and we will just be passengers like all the others.”
The Gotthard will surpass Japan’s 33.4-mile Seikan tunnel as the world’s longest train tunnel.The 31.4-mile Channel Tunnel that links England and France will be pushed to the third place.