Switzerland is officially set to open the world’s longest railway tunnel later today.
The 57-kilometre Gotthard Base Tunnel was conceived by Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner in 1947 but delays did not allow construction to start till as late as 1999.
Gotthard Base Tunnel runs from Erstfeld to Bodio 2.3 km deep under the surface of Alps.
It will now be a mainline railway route from Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Genoa in Italy.
But the tunnel will be of huge benefit those commuting on the busy Zurich-Milan route. The tunnel brings down the travelling time between the two cities by one hour.
According to Swiss authorities, by 2020 there will be 15,000 daily rail passengers on the route – 6,000 more than now.
The main purpose of the tunnel is to enable the fast transport of freight which would replace the need for millions of trucks plying on Swiss roads carrying the same capacity.
The pollution caused by the trucks was an environmental concern for the Swiss. In 1992, they voted in favour of a resolution for the construction of the tunnel and two years later backed a proposal to move all freight travelling through Switzerland from road to rail.
It will take just 17 minutes for any of the 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains to pass through the tunnel.
Engineers used the latest tunnel-drilling machines, particularly a 410-mtr-long driller, to make a straight tunnel.
They worked 43,800 hours non-stop. There were 125 labourers working in three shifts to lay the tunnel’s slab track. Nine died during the construction process.
Safety of the trains and the tunnel has been taken care of. There are emergency stop stations inside the tunnel, climate control systems to ensure fresh air and a consistent temperature.
This simulation shows how systems spring into action in case of a mishap.
It cost the government USD 12 billion but the good news is that the tunnel was built on time and within budget.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, along with Swiss officials will be at the opening.
The world’s second longest tunnel from this day forth will be Japan’s 53.9-kilometre-long Seikan tunnel; the third will be 50.5-kilometre-long Channel Tunnel that links England and France.