Gotthard base tunnel: world’s longest rail tunnel opens


After the tunnel’s first blast in the main shaft 17 years ago, the Gotthard base tunnel in Switzerland opens today. To celebrate the completion of the world’s longest rail tunnel, the country is holding an opening ceremony.

1,200 guests have been invited for the festivities that are expected to cost €8M. German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president François Hollande and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi are among the guests of honour at the ceremony. At the weekend, additional opening events are expected to attract 50,000-100,000 visitors.

The longest tunnel — named after the patron saint of travelling merchants, St Gotthard— runs through the Alps, between Erstfeld, Uri, and Bodio, Ticiano.

Trains using the €11bn rail tunnel won’t go into service until 11 December 2016, when it will be fully operational. Until then, test runs will be conducted at the rail line.

When fully operational, 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will travel through the two-way tunnel each day, reducing the journey times between Zurich and Milan from more than four hours to just two-and-a-half hours. Travel through the tunnel itself will take just 20 minutes, with a stop at the control station of Sedrun.

Gotthard has overtaken the 53.9km Seikan Tunnel in northern Japan as the longest rail tunnel in the world, demoting the 50.5km Channel Tunnel between Britain and France to third place.

The Gotthard base tunnel in numbers:

•    Start of construction works: 1999
•    Length: 57.09km
•    Total length of tunnels: 151.84km
•    Diameter of rail tunnels: 8.5m
•    Highest elevation: 549m
•    Depth: 2,300m
•    Mountain rock excavated: 28.2M tonnes
•    Concrete used: 131,000cu m
•    Workforce: up to 2,600
•    Maximum train speed: up to 250kph
•    Cost: €11bn

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