Switzerland has opened up the world’s biggest railway tunnel, 17 years and £8bn after it committed to break the record.
It held a celebration for the completion of the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel, which runs through the Alps. Crowds gathered to celebrate the tunnel’s record-breaking completion in an event that was used to praise the achievements of Europe amid fears of nationalism and increasing distrust of other countries.
European leaders, Angela Merkel, Matteo Renzi and François Hollande joined Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann for a ride in first class through the tunnel.
“The new tunnel fits into the European railway freight corridor, which links Rotterdam and Genoa” – key ports in the Netherlands and Italy, said Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann. “Aside from saving time, more merchandise can be carried through the Alps.”
Angela Merkel said it was a “wonderful feeling” to be on the train. Though “more than 2,000 metres of rocks” were above, she said she felt a “feeling of security, because I believe in the security of the Swiss civil engineers.” She congratulated the punctual Swiss and noted how costs were kept within targets.
The new tunnel will help people travel through the area more quickly – cutting 45 minutes off the journey across Switzerland – as well as easing the heavy traffic that can gather there. It will also look to reduce the work done by the polluting lorries that drive between the north and south of Europe.
When it opens in December, 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will travel through the two-way, long tunnel each day.
The new hole takes the record from Japan’s Seikan Tunnel – as well travelling further, it’s 1.4 miles deeper than any other rail tunnel, too. It will replace the Gotthardbahn rail tunnel, which goes up and down with the land that it’s buried into – unlike the new tunnel, which is the first in the Alps to go on a flat journey.
Mr Hollande, host of the UN climate change summit held in Paris last year, pointed to the tunnel's environmental benefits. “You have created a great European infrastructure,” said Hollande. “It will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, redirect traffic from the road to rail and move passengers and goods faster.”
He also used the chance to remind Britons of the unity that the tunnel under the English Channel has brought between Britain and the continent, ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June.
“More than 20 years ago, a construction was completed between France and the United Kingdom: The Channel Tunnel,” said Mr Hollande. “Since then, we are united like never before, and I hope the British remember that when the time comes.”
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