The Gothard tunnel across the Alps is a feat of engineering.

Switzerland gives itself and the world the longest tunnel on earth © AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd.
news Wednesday, June 01, 2016 - 12:51

By Nikolai S. Diaz

There will not be kings, queens and potentates. But the builders and makers of Europe in this century will all be in attendance at the Gothard railway tunnel which cuts through the Alps linking north and south Europe in one seamless rail-road – something the continent has been wanting for decades. With a route length of 35.5 miles (57.09 km) and a total of 94.3 miles (151.84 km) miles of tunnels, passages and shafts, the Gothard tunnel in Switzerland is the longest railway tunnel on earth. It has been widely hailed as an engineering marvel.

© AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd.

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga will be flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande to flag off the official opening of the most-talked about tunnel which has also been called the construction site of the century. The project was 17 years in the making and has cost the exchequer $10.3 billion. When the tunnel goes operational tomorrow (June 2nd), the time needed to cross the Alps will come down by 45 minutes making a train ride form Zurich to Milan a three hour affair - shorter than going from Bangalore to Chennai.

© AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd.

The two single-track tunnels are the star attraction and their main function is to increase surface transport across the Alps from Rotterdam (Netherlands) in the north to Genoa (Italy) in the south via Basel in Switzerland. Lorries trundling across the Alps have been the subject of severe political and economic disputes in Europe not only for the environmental damage they cause, but also for accidents and delays. The Swiss are very environmentally conscious and the decision to dig or not to dig has been back and forth between ballots a few times. Drilling for the tunnel began in 1996, four years after the Swiss voted in a referendum with 64 per cent of the country giving the go-ahead.

© AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd.

Being at the heart of Europe and not a part of the European Union meant that Switzerland had to bilaterally negotiate agreements with several countries including its immediate neighbours France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. The road over the Gothard Pass or through its sinuous tunnels is one of the most important passages through the Alps on the north-south axis of Europe. Cars can now be loaded on to trains to cross the Alps.

The irony of Europe closing its external borders to refugees and immigrants while opening itself internally for increased trade and cooperation has not gone unnoticed.

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