After 17 years of work and €11 billion spent, the world’s largest rail tunnel, Switzerland’s Gotthard base tunnel will officially open today.
Two trains carrying 500 passengers each (Swiss citizens who selected after a public draw) will make the inaugural journeys at 12.15pm and the official opening of the tunnel is expected at 2.45pm.
The tunnel is 57 km in length and is situated 2.3 km deep under the Alps, being also the deepest tunnel in the world.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will join Swiss president Johann Schneider-Ammann, to the maiden voyage through the rail tunnel.
The Swiss citizens decided in a 1998 referendum to approve the construction of the Gotthard base tunnel, along with funding schemes, including a new road tax and a tax on heavy duty vehicles. The construction of the tunnel finished a year earlier, as during peak periods, around 2,400 people were working on the tunnel construction around the clock in three shifts.
Gotthard Base Tunnel connects the two Swiss towns of Erstfeld and Bodio, located in the cantons of Uri and Ticino respectively. The tunnel will allow passenger trains to travel at a speed of up to 200 km/h (with future speeds topping at 250 km/h) and the journey from Zurich to Milan, Italy will shorten for about an hour.
Last week, European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, said that the new tunnel is a “godsend for Europe” as it will serve as “a vital link connecting Rotterdam (and) Antwerp with the ports of the Adriatic.” The rail tunnel is expected to boost the trade route between Northern and Southern Europe and also help in the reduction of CO2 emissions in Europe, as it will shift alpine traffic from road to rail.
“We can show that Switzerland is a reliable partner for Brussels and the whole of Europe, more reliable even than some of its member states,” Christophe Darbellay, the president of the Christian Democratic party told Neue Zürcher Zeitung, according to Guardian. “We keep our promises, and we put our money where our mouth is,” he concluded.
The successful construction of the Gotthard base tunnel is also important because it will serve as a guideline for the building of the next alpine mega-tunnelling project, already in progress. A 55km tunnel is being built, connecting Innsbruck in Austria with Bolzano in Italy, under the Brenner crossing.