Breakthrough nears on world's longest rail tunnel

This Friday, October 15, journalists and Swiss officials will gather underneath the Swiss Alps to witness the breaking of a world record as constructors "break through" on the world's longest train tunnel.

The final breakthrough of the Gotthard Base Tunnel will see the two halves of the tunnel connected by construction crews to form a continuous stretch 57 kilometers long which will enable trains to pass on a flat route underneath the Alps for the first time.

By the time of its expected opening in 2017, trains will be able to run through the tunnels at high speeds, carrying both passengers and cargo on a new route that is expected to take an hour off the journey time between Milan and Zurich.

The new estimated travel time will be 2 hours and 40 minutes using high-tech tilting rolling stock (train carriages), making trains a viable alternative to air for the first time and benefiting an estimated 20 million travelers living in the region - as well as travelers from Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands who can use existing high-speed services down to Zurich.

Authorities plan to integrate the timetables of Rail 2000, the Swiss timetable north of the Alps, with that of the Trenitalia service running in Italy, running hourly connections between Zurich and Milan.

Because the route is flat, the project is also likely to significantly improve freight links, lessening the environmental impact of goods transports as longer trains will be able to pull double the weight of the current route.

Much work remains to be done on the link, but on Friday it will already take the crown from Japan's 53.8 km Seikan Tunnel, constructed in 1988, as the world's longest railroad tunnel.

The world's longest rail tunnels (including Gotthard Base Tunnel)

1. Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland - 57.1 km
2. Seikan Tunnel, Japan - 53.85 km
3. Channel Tunnel, English Channel - 50.45 km
4. Loetscheberg Base Tunnel, Switzerland - 34.58 km
5. Guadarrama Tunnel, Spain - 28.38 km

http://www.alptransit.ch/

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