Today—17 years, $12,500 million and more than one billion gallons of concrete later—Switzerland's Gotthard Rail opened, cutting through the Swiss Alps. At 35 miles in length beneath about a mile and a half of rock, it's the longest and deepest tunnel in the world expected to slash journey times across Europe and revolutionize freight transport. Nearly three thousand people have been employed, hundreds of whom have braved unbearable temperatures to complete what has become recognized as a Swiss engineering feat. Here's why it's awesome.
Existing routes across the Alps—like this old rail tunnel, which opened in 1982—are slow. The Gotthard road tunnel, which opened in 1980, now sees more than a million freight lorries a year and contributes to mass air pollution.
A 30 ft. boring machine was used to drill the 35-mile tunnel.
The Gotthard Rail is a system of two one-way tubes, linked by emergency escape routes every 325 meters.
It took 17 years of testing before finally coming to completion.
Workers blasted through 73 kinds of rock—enough to build six Egyptian pyramids—as hard as granite and as soft as butter.
Temperatures rose to 114 degrees Fahrenheit beneath the rock.
Nine miners died in the process.
But the tunnels running in both directions, north and south, will transport Europe's freight with no danger of collision, and with trains racing at speeds of up to 155 mph.
The hard work put in will cut travel times across Europe so it will only take 20 minutes to get from Zurich to Milan.
And the new flat route means that even heavy trains will need only one locomotive rather than two or three.
Some 600 actors, musicians, alphorn players, choir singers and the Swiss Army band performed (dressed as angels, goats and construction workers) in a bizarre opening ceremony in Rynächt at the northern end of the tunnel.
The official opening welcomed 500 winners and their guests (from 130,000 who entered a lottery) to take the inaugural trip. Among those in attendance were Germany’s Angela Merkel, France's François Hollande, Italy’s Matteo Renzi and Austrian chancellor, Christian Kern.