After 14 years of drilling, Swiss engineers Oct. 15 blasted through the final section of rock to complete the world's longest rail tunnel, which is expected to transform freight transport between northern and southern Europe.
The 35.4 mile high speed rail link buried deep in St. Gotthard pass in the Swiss Alps, is scheduled to open in 2017 to carry passenger and freight trains.
The tunnel, which is expected to cost $9.8 billion, is nearly two miles longer than the Seikan rail tunnel linking the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido and more than twice as long as the world's longest road tunnel, the 15.3 mile Laerdal in Norway.
Historical perspective from JOC:
A new route through the Alps.
The Swiss government decided to build a new tunnel after Swiss voters in a 1994 referendum overwhelmingly backed a controversial proposal by environmentalists to stop heavy trucks driving across the Alps -- including European Union transit traffic.
Efforts by Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, to increase truck transit charges and introduce quotas to reduce traffic caused tensions with its European neighbors.
The Alps are a major transit route for trucks between northern Europe and Italy. Much of the traffic uses a 9.3 mile road tunnel higher up the sides of the St.Gotthard pass.
EU truckers and shippers are facing further pressure to transfer freight to trains amid heightened Swiss concern over pollution.
In an opinion poll published this week 67 percent of respondents supported a ban on truck traffic through the St. Gotthard pass and the transfer of freight onto rail.
When completed the new Gotthard tunnel's twin tubes will be able to handle around 300 trains a day traveling at speeds of up to 155 miles per hour.
-- Contact Bruce Barnard at email@example.com.