16 October 2010

The world's longest railway tunnel

AlpTransit Gotthard AG, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB-CFF-FFS), is currently building the world's longest railway tunnel. From their communiqué of 15 October 2010
World record on the Gotthard: The longest railway tunnel in the world has become a reality. On 15 October 2010 in the east tunnel, 30 km from the north portal and 27 km from the south portal, the final breakthrough of the Gotthard took place. At about 14:30, the tunnel boring machine, drilling from Faido, broke through the last metre of rock on the route to Sedrun.

The tunnel breakthrough was highly accurate. At 8 cm horizontally and 1 cm vertically, the deviation was very small. In his speech, Federal Councillor Moritz Leuenberger expressed pleasure, but was also moved by this important milestone on the Gotthard: “This breakthrough is a symbol of what policy can do, when we make it together,” he said. The new base tunnel will make Swiss – and also European – transport policy more sustainable. Renzo Simoni, Chief Executive Officer of AlpTransit Gotthard AG, singled out the numerous miners in his thanks. “Through their years of tireless commitment, they have made this world record possible. The miners are the heroes of today’s celebrations.”

Guests and miners are very happy

At the breakthrough point deep inside the mountain, a little over 6 km south of Sedrun, about 200 people, including Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger and other guests of honour, witnessed the breakthrough by the tunnel boring machine. About 3500 miners and others involved in the project, including current and former engineers, planners, geologists and surveyors, followed the breakthrough on big screens at various venues: the Sedrun workshop, the Faido multifunction station, the north portal in Erstfeld, and the KKL in Lucerne. Swiss TV broadcast the event live throughout Switzerland and internationally

Importance for transport policy

The 57 km Gotthard base tunnel traverses the Alps, connecting the north portal in Erstfeld (Canton Uri) with the south portal in Bodio (Canton Ticino). With a rock overburden of up to 2500 m, the Gotthard base tunnel is also the most deeply set rail tunnel in the world. Together with the 15.4 km Ceneri base tunnel, the Gotthard base tunnel will provide a level track through the Alps. The base tunnel through the Gotthard is the core of the new rail connection. It is planned to become operational by the end of 2017. This will markedly improve passenger and freight transport at the heart of Europe: it will favour the shift of north-south freight traffic from road to rail, and shorten the journey time from Zurich to Milan from 3 hours 40 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes. With the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) on the Gotthard and the Lötschberg, Switzerland is contributing significantly to bring the people of Europe together – something the EU acknowledges.

Building the Gotthard base tunnel

The Gotthard base tunnel consists of two parallel single-track tubes, which are connected every 325 m by 40 m galleries. Overall, the tunnel system of the Gotthard base tunnel, including all tubes, shafts and galleries, measures 151.8 km. One and two thirds of the way along, at Faido and Sedrun, there are multifunction stations, which serve as emergency stopping points and places to change track. The Gotthard base tunnel was built simultaneously in five sections: Erstfeld, Amsteg, Sedrun, Faido and Bodio. The first works were carried out back in 1993, with the Piora exploratory boring, and from 1996 to 1998 with the blasting of the access shafts in Sedrun, Faido and Amsteg. Since 2001, the main lots have been constructed. The final breakthrough in the west tube is planned to take place in April 2011.
The previous longest railway tunnel was the undersea Seikan Tunnel at 53.85 kilometres (33.46 miles) linking the Japanese islands of Honshū and Hokkaidō.

Images by Reuters via PicApp
A visitor stands at the Erstfeld-Amsteg section of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel October 5, 2010. With a length of 57 km (35 miles) crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2017.  REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION TRANSPORT TRAVEL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

REFILE - CORRECTING TYPO A miner stands in front of the drill machine 'Sissi' after it broke through the rock at the final section Faido-Sedrun, at the construction site of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel October 15, 2010. With a length of 57 km (35 miles) crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2017.      REUTERS/Christian Hartmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION POLITICS IMAGE OF THE DAY TOP PICTURE)

See AP reporting (video)

In comparison, the Channel Tunnel (under the English Channel) is 50.45 kilometres. The proposed Gilbraltar tunnel linking Europe to Africa (via Spain and Morocco) would be 40 kilometres.

Travelling through the mountainous Swiss Alps by rail or car is a wonderful experience, through tunnels that are marvellous feats of engineering. 

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