FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(ERSTFELD, Switzerland) — It has taken 17 years to construct at a cost of $12 billion. But finally, the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel, running under the Swiss Alps, was unveiled Wednesday.
Named after the Roman Catholic patron saint of traveling merchants, St. Gotthard, the Gotthard Base Tunnel will connect northern and southern Europe, and shorten travel time for many rail routes in Europe.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel will enter the record books as the world’s longest railway tunnel, stretching about 35 miles underneath the mountains of Switzerland. It burrows deeper — 1.4 miles — than any other rail tunnel.
It overtakes Japan’s Seikan tunnel, which measure about 33 miles, as the longest rail tunnel in the world.
As part of the inauguration, the tunnel is to be blessed by a priest, a reverend, a rabbi and an imam. The full festivities will see 1,200 guests travel to open up the tunnel, and cost about $9.2 million in all.
The grand opening is reportedly viewed as an opportunity for diplomacy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will join Swiss authorities for a ceremonial first run through the tunnel. Full service will begin in December.
After it opens for commercial service at the end of the year, the two-way tunnel will take up to 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains per day.
Whether Switzerland will be able to hold on to its record for long is an open question. China is planning its own engineering marvel: a tunnel measuring about 76 miles — more than twice the length of the Gotthard Base Tunnel — underneath Bohai Bay. It is suppose to reduce journey times between the port cities of Dalian and Yantai from eight hours to 45 minutes.
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