The world’s longest and deepest railway tunnel is now open in – or under – the Swiss Alps for tests. When it opens to train traffic in December 2016, the new Gotthard Base Tunnel will cut travel time through the heart of Europe by up to an hour within Switzerland and between Germany, Switzerland and Italy. But you can take a trip through it now.
At 35 miles (57km) it took 17 years to build, and cost more than $12Billion.
The ceremonial ribbon cutting was June 1, 2016, but it will take until the end of the year for regular trains to speed through it. While the tunnel undergoes security and technical tests, it is open for limited visits.
Between August 2nd and November 27th, visitors may descend into the once-in-a-lifetime construction on exclusive tunnel tours.
The special “Gottardino” train includes the chance to disembark in the depths of the mountain. The stop and walk around the tracks at Sedrun will no longer be possible once the tunnel is operational with high-speed train traffic, so this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Contact the Swiss Travel System for additional information and tickets.
The new Gotthard Base Tunnel is more than one mile below the Gotthard massif. At a depth of 6,560 feet (2,000m), trains will travel at up to 155 miles per hour (250 km/h). The trip will take just 20 minutes, and is for travelers who want speed rather than scenery.
The new tunnel system consists of two directionally separated single track tubes, connected by cross passages every 1,000 feet. In an emergency, passengers would be able to cross through to the opposite track for evacuation. There are also two so-called “way points” for evacuation to small towns along the tunnel route, Faido and Sedrun.
Those who want the incredible panoramic view of the Gotthard Pass can still take the historic panorama route with its iconic red trains and switchback route.
Swiss Federal Railways is giving travelers the option of splitting a round trip between going one way through the new tunnel, and the other via the panoramic route.
The Alpine railway link with its 225 bridges, loop tunnels and summit tunnel, has been popular since it opened in 1882, when rail travel was still in its relative infancy, and it helped build Swiss tourism, although that may have started when Hannibal cross the Alps.
That route climbs from an altitude of around 1,200 feet to more than 3,000 feet (470 to 1100 metres), across no fewer than 205 bridges, loops and short tunnels as it masters the Gotthard massif.
Another marvel of Swiss engineering is the Glacier 3000 Bridge Walk, suspended between two Alpine peaks.
It is spectacular trip, especially the section where the an eternal attraction for countless tourists is the beautiful Baroque church of Wassen in the narrow Uri Valley, which can be seen from one side of the train and then the other as the train travels between tight loop tunnels.
Construction of the new Gotthard Base Tunnel was approved by Swiss voters in a national referendum in 1992. More than 2,500 engineers, environmental experts, construction workers and others, from nearly one dozen nations, were involved in the project, which cost around $10Billion.
photos courtesy SwissInfo.ch and Swiss Federal Railways