The Swiss and Their Tunnels – Gotthard Breakthrough

The Swiss are famous for many things, chocolate and watches, banks and tunnels.

Tunnels? Well, yes. Switzerland has over 40 road tunnels over 2km length, with 11 more tunnels either planned or already being built. It is not hard to guess why there are so many Swiss tunnels, the picturesque mountains and valleys may be a rambler’s dream but they are a driver’s nightmare, if the driver wishes to get from A to B fast.

When we travel in Switzerland we chose – scenic route that takes hours or autobahn that gets us where we want to go quickly and efficiently. When we drove to Italy last year we travelled through the Mont Blanc tunnel to get to Turin, but returned over the mountain passes – Col de Mt Cenis, Col de Iseran.

Which would you prefer?

The tunnels are not just a convenience for motorists, they are also a major part of the Swiss ecological policy, in particular the rail tunnels. 

Today the Swiss are celebrating something rather special, the breakthrough of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. On completion in 2017, it will be the longest rail tunnel worldwide, at 57km (35 miles). This means that Zurich bankers can travel to Milan for a spot of shopping in only 2 1/2 hours, a whole hour shorter than at present.

Picture from Tagesanzeige.ch
From 10am CET you can watch online here to see Sissi the giant drill crumble the final centimeters of rock and rubble. 

Even for the Swiss, this is a big thing. The decision to build tunnel was not without controversy, costing  CHF 9.5 for the tunnel, with the cost for the entire Gotthard project currently CHF 12.2bn – CHF 5bn over the original estimate. The Gotthard Base Tunnel is a part of the Neuen Eisenbahn- Alpentransversale (Neat) – the Swiss plan to transfer as much traffic as possible from the roads onto the railway lines. Over 60% of the Swiss population voted for this project, which will cost CHF 20bn and see both the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Ceneri-Tunnel in Tessin finished by 2019.

The Swiss Transport Minister will be joined by the pioneer of NEAT, Alt-Bundesrat Adolf Ogi  and other dignitaries to celebrate the breakthough. Over the course of the building work, 23 of the over 2500 workers have lost their lives. Their names will be read out at the ceremony today. You  can watch it live from 10am CET (9am GMT) online on the website of the Tagesanzeiger
UPDATE:
These pictures show the euphoria and relief that the planned breakthrough went as planned, and serve as a reminder of the eight workers who lost their lives during the tunnel construction.
Photo from B.Z. Berlin
Photo from Mittelbayerishe Zeitung

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