The Swiss Alps are one of Europe’s most scenic natural treasures, but the mountains will become even more remarkable late next year when the world’s longest
rail tunnel provides the first low-level route through the range.
The 57-kilometer (35-mile) Gotthard Base Tunnel required 2,600 people to
build and involved construction challenges that weighed on the project team.
Eight workers died from being hit by trains or falling. During the 11-year tunnel
excavation phase, which began in 1999, the threat of safety hazards, such as
rockfalls, was constant.
The project team installed steel arches to keep the walls of each single-track
tunnel stable. It developed custom sealing foils to prevent water seepage in the
tunnel. Swiss government officials call the tunnel a symbol of Swiss innovation
and reliability, pointing to the project’s efforts to reuse excavated materials and
utilization of high-precision boring machines.
“Yesterday we sought to move mountains,” Swiss Transport Minister Moritz
Leuenberger said at the tunnel breakthrough ceremony in 2010. “Today we have
bored right through and created the world’s longest tunnel.”
Project leaders will begin testing the tunnel in October.
PROJECT: Gotthard Base Tunnel
COST: US$10 billion
DUG OUT: Workers cut through 13 million
cubic meters (459 million cubic feet) of hard
mountain rock, the volume of nearly nine
“The nightmare scenario during excavation
was a rockfall or water coming in.”
—Renzo Simoni, CEO, Alp Transit Gotthard AG, Lucerne, Switzerland, to Time