the Swiss Alps project will be the longest…
the drill machine “Sissi”…
The new Gotthard Base Tunnel is seen as an important milestone in the creation of a high-speed transportation network connecting all corners of Europe.
First conceived in 1947 by engineer Eduard Gruner, it will allow millions of tons of goods that are currently transported through the Alps on heavy trucks to be shifted onto the rails, particularly on the economically important link between the Dutch port of Rotterdam and Italy’s Mediterranean port of Genoa.
The tunnel also aims to reduce the damage that heavy trucks are inflicting on Switzerland’s pristine Alpine landscape.
Some 2,500 workers have spent nearly 20 years smashing through the rock beneath the towering Gotthard massif, including the 8,200-foot Piz Vatgira (Vatgira Peak).
When the $10 billion tunnel opens for rail traffic in 2017, it will replace Japan’s 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel as the world’s longest – excluding aqueducts – and let passenger and cargo trains pass under the Alps at speeds of up to 155 mph on their way from Germany to Italy.
Swiss voters, who are paying over $1,300 each to fund the project, approved its construction in a series of referendums almost 20 years ago.
European transport ministers watched the breakthrough ceremony live from a meeting in Luxembourg, conscious that Switzerland has set the bar very high for future cross-Alpine rail projects. Two further tunnels – one connecting connect Lyon, France, to Turin in Italy, and the other replacing the Brenner road tunnel between Austria and Italy – are still a long way from completion.
Swiss engineers are hoping to complete the rail tunnel even sooner than planned – possibly by the end of 2016 – but its first high-speed trains could be delayed by protests in Germany and Italy, where local opposition to new tracks and budget constraints have become an issue in recent months.
The protesters in Stuttgart oppose plans to move the city’s station underground, viewing the €4.1 billion ($5.7 billion) project as a waste of money. Supporters say it will free up the city’s packed center and help shorten journeys across Europe.