Andermat: The world`s
longest tunnel will take shape deep beneath the Swiss Alps
today when a giant drilling machine clears a path for a key
high speed railway through the heart of Europe.
"The Gotthard will forever be a spectacular and
grandiose monument with which all tunnels will be compared,"
said Swiss Transport Minister Morotz Leuenberger.
The 57-kilometre Gotthard base tunnel will form the
lynchpin of a new network between northern and southeastern
Europe that could shift truck freight onto rail and decongest
the Alps in central Switzerland when it opens in 2017.
Passengers will ultimately be able to speed from the
Italian city of Milan to Zurich in less than three hours and
further north into Germany, cutting the journey time by an
But the 9.8 billion Swiss franc tunnel is also the
fruit of a popular wave of concern about pollution in the Alps
with booming road traffic transiting from neighbouring
After 15 years of construction work, the 9.5-metre
wide drilling machine will bore through the remaining 1.5
metres of rock to join two ends of the tunnel some 2,000
metres under a mountain.
The stage-managed event, attended by 200 dignitaries
30 kilometres along the tunnel, will be broadcast live on
Swiss television and watched by European Union transport
ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg.
But the spotlight will also fall on some 2,500 tunnel
workers, many of whom will be feasted at a celebration just
above the breakthrough point in the mountain village of
Eight have died since construction of the new tunnel
began 15 years ago, blasting and boring through 13 million
cubic metres of rock in hot and humid conditions.
The Gotthard tunnel will exceed the 53.8-kilometre
Seikan rail tunnel linking the Japanese islands of Honshu and
Hokkaido and the world`s longest road tunnel, the 24.5-
kilometre Laerdal in Norway.
Switzerland struggled to convince sceptical European
neighbours to support its ambitious and costly transalpine
rail plans in the 1990s.
But they gained added weight in a shock referendum
result in 1994 when Swiss voters supported a green motion to
stop heavy trucks crossing the Alps -- including the expanding
flow of transiting EU goods traffic.
A nationwide opinion poll published on Wednesday
suggested that that sentiment is undimmed.