The world's longest rail tunnel opens in Switzerland after 17 years of construction

The world's longest rail tunnel has been officially opened in Switzerland, after 17 years of construction.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is 57.1 km (35.3 miles) long, and has been designed to last a century.

It is part of a 23 billion Swiss franc infrastructure project to speed passenger and cargo by rail under the mountain chain that divides Europe's north and south.

The official opening of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel in Amsteg, Switzerland. Credit: Reuters
Engineers had to dig and blast through 73 kinds of rock as hard as granite and as soft as sugar. Credit: Reuters
57.1km

The tunnel beats Japan's Seikan Tunnel (53.8km) as the world's longest

17

It took 17 years to build.

2.3km

The tunnel is 2.3km below the surface - the altitude of Europe's highest ski resort Val Thorens

The Gotthard Base Tunnel eclipses Japan's 33.4-mile (53.8km) Seikan Tunnel as the world's longest, and burrows deeper - 1.4 miles (2.3km) - than any other rail tunnel.

Engineers had to dig and blast through 73 kinds of rock as hard as granite and as soft as sugar.

  • Take a ride on board through the world's longest tunnel

The project that federal transport office director Peter Fueglistaler called "a masterpiece of timing, cost and policy" came in on schedule and on budget.

Around 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will travel through the two-tube tunnel daily once testing ends later this year.

A worker pushes a small wagon on the railway tracks during installation works in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel in May 2014. Credit: Reuters
Workers cycle next to the railway tracks. Credit: Reuters
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is part of a 23 billion Swiss franc infrastructure project Credit: RTV
The tunnel is part of a network that connects Europe's north and south. Credit: RTV
The tunnel beats Japan's Seikan Tunnel (53.8km) as the longest in the world. Credit: RTV
The tunnel is 2,300m below the surface - the equivalent altitude of Val Thorens, Europe's highest ski resort. Credit: RTV

High-speed trains will whisk passengers in 17 minutes through a passage that took days until the first Alpine rail tunnel opened in 1882.

The tunnel along Europe's main rail line that connects the ports of Rotterdam in the north to Genoa in the south snakes through the mountains as much as 2.3 km below the surface and through rock as hot as 46 degrees Celsius

The entrance to the tunnel. Credit: Reuters
The northern gates of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel near the town of Erstfeld, Switzerland Credit: Reuters