Gotthard base tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in the world. It runs underneath the Alps in Switzerland and is scheduled for opening in 2017. The breakthrough to the east tube just happened in October of 2010. Gotthard base tunnel is the 36 miles long. The Gotthard Base Tunnel is actually two main parallel tunnels measuring a record-breaking 57km each, served by a maze of access tunnels, shafts and passages. In total there will be 153.5 km of tunnel through the Swiss Alps. The project has been conceived to solve the problem of heavy European road traffic on this major route through the Alps, while simultaneously developing Europe’s high-speed rail network. The existing tunnel, much higher up, can only handle three-truck freight trains of up to 2,000 tons. The new tunnel will take 4,000 ton heavy freight trains – carrying entire trucks on board – effortlessly through the heart of the mountains. Passenger trains will be able to travel at speeds of up to 250kmph, resulting in a train journey time between Zurich and Milan of just two hours and 40 minutes – a third less than at present. But digging a tunnel underneath 3,000m mountains is going to take all the skill of some of the world’s leading engineers. Much of the geology that lies beneath the mountains was unknown when the project began. Problems that would slow the project down and give rise to complex engineering challenges have been a feature of building the tunnel.
Implications have been marked in Switzerland as traffic has largely been in transit, rather than for Swiss producers or consumers. A motorway construction programme and the opening of the Gotthard road tunnel in 1980 greatly encouraged freight by road. General concern was joined by the shock of the multiple fatalities in the Gotthard and Mont Blanc road tunnel accidents. To control adverse environmental effects, the Swiss constitution incorporated Protection of the Alps in 1994. Previously during 1992, New Rail Link through the Alps programme was approved for building two base tunnels. These were to be relatively level alignments at lower levels than previous tunnels through the massif on the BLS Lötschberg and SBB Gotthard routes.
The joy and pride felt throughout Switzerland over digging the Gotthard Base Tunnel reflected the one cause that unites the country’s wealthy city dwellers with those living in traditional villages: Protecting the beauty of the mountains.