Switzerland’s Alpine region, aka the Swiss Alps, is no doubt one of the world’s most beautiful places, best known for its picturesque snowy peaks and being a haven for adrenaline junkies. Despite its beauty, however, this area has historically been a big obstacle for transportation in the region, making it extremely difficult to connect economic centers like Zurich, Turin, and Milan. In other words, unless you’re on a pair of skis, traversing the Alps is a royal drag and a waste of time.
So what did Switzerland do about this? They spent nearly two decades — and $10.3 billion — boring the absolute hell out of those pesky Swiss mountains, sights fully set on constructing the longest tunnel in the world to more easily connect the aforementioned cities. To the country’s credit, it appears it’s accomplished just that. Earlier this week, Swiss authorities reported construction on the massive, 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel has finally finished, with full-scale testing set to begin on October 1st. Once testing concludes, the Federal Office of Transport is then expected to give the tunnel its official stamp of approval in terms of safety.
Not only is this a substantial achievement in the eyes of, say, the Guinness Book of World Records, but it represents a massive accomplishment for the country of Switzerland. Since 1999, nearly 2,000 workers have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into construction of the tunnel — sadly, there were also eight deaths during the process — of which a reported 31 million tons of Earth were excavated. At 35 miles, the Gotthard Base Tunnel trumps the world’s previous longest tunnel, Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, by sixteen and a half miles. Switzerland is also receiving a healthy dose of kudos in regards to the tunnel’s ability to reduce harmful emissions capable of destroying the Alps’ environment.
Once testing and safety inspections conclude, Swiss authorities predict passenger and freight trains to start running in the tunnel beginning in June of 2016. At this time, passengers traveling from Zurich to Milan have the ability to make the trip in only two and a half hours, effectively shaving an entire hour off the previous length of the journey. Each train running through the Gotthard Base Tunnel will also reportedly travel at sustained speeds of 150 miles per hour, a speed which is made possible by the tunnel’s relatively flat and straight terrain.
To celebrate Gotthard’s opening, Switzerland intends to throw a massive festival to officially unveil the tunnel. At the festival, a lucky group of 1,000 people will have the distinct honor of being the first non-workers to travel the 35-mile tunnel, with the selection process of this group beginning in January of 2016. Until then, those traveling from Zurich to Milan will just have to continue to endure the Swiss Alps’ incredible beauty a few more times.