UPDATE: 6:34 a.m. EDT — Switzerland inaugurated the world's longest railroad tunnel Wednesday, according to reports. The tunnel, which took nearly 20 years to finish and cost about $12 billion, is expected to expedite the transport of goods and passengers between northern and southern Europe.
Switzerland is poised to overtake Japan’s 33-mile-long rail tunnel Wednesday by unveiling the 35-mile twin-bore Gotthard Base Tunnel running under the Alps. The tunnel will be officially opened after almost 20 years of construction.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel, its initial design conceived nearly seven decades ago, will transform freight movement on the continent, according to Switzerland, which has doled out 12 billion Swiss francs ($12 billion) for the project. When it officially opens, the tunnel will surpass Japan’s Seikan tunnel as the world’s longest train tunnel. It is expected to provide a high-speed rail link between northern and southern Europe.
The tunnel is set to be blessed by a priest, a reverend, a rabbi and an imam Wednesday morning as part of an inauguration. The grand opening is reportedly viewed as an opportunity for diplomacy.
The tunnel is expected to help cut travel time between Zurich and Milan, and ferry twice the roughly 9,000 people currently traveling between northern and southern Europe on the route within the next decade. Moreover, the amount of goods carried through the route is expected to increase to 260 trains daily from about 160.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will be attending the grand opening of the tunnel.
“It is just part of the Swiss identity,” federal transport office director Peter Fueglistaler told Reuters. “For us, conquering the Alps is like the Dutch exploring the oceans.”
European Union transport commissioner Violeta Bulc recently called the new tunnel as a “godsend for Europe,” which will act as a “a vital link connecting Rotterdam [in the Netherlands and] Antwerp [in Belgium] with the ports of the Adriatic.”
The project was passed by Swiss voters in a referendum in 1992 after their support to a proposal from environmental groups to move all goods travelling through Switzerland from road to rail two years later. The completed tunnel goes up to 1.4 miles below the surface of the mountains and through rock that reaches temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 Fahrenheit).
The route of the tunnel will be flat and straight rather than winding up through the mountains like the old rail tunnel and a road tunnel opened in 1980. Once opened, about 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will pass through it in just 17 minutes. Swiss bank Credit Suisse reportedly said that the economic benefits of the tunnel will include the simpler movement of goods and increased tourism.