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Swiss Launch Record-Breaking Tunnel

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

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The world’s longest, deepest tunnel opened last week in Switzerland with much fanfare celebrating completion of the mega project’s 17-year construction timeline.

At 35 miles long and about 7,545 feet deep, the twin-bore Gotthard Base Tunnel connects northern and southern Europe via high-speed rail travelling a flat route under the Swiss Alps.

The new Gotthard tunnel takes the top spot for longest tunnel in the world from Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, finished in 1988 and measuring 33.49 miles, BBC reported. Close behind is the Eurotunnel connecting France and the U.K., finished in 1994 and measuring 31.37 miles.


Switzerland celebrated the opening of its Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world's longest, deepest tunnel, after 17 years of construction.

In addition to lavish opening ceremony performances held Wednesday (June 1), the tunnel was inaugurated with its first passenger service. One train on each of the two tracks, traveling in opposite directions, carried government and rail officials, as well as members of the public who won the chance to be among the first passengers.

Materials and Manpower

The $12 billion construction project was reportedly envisioned as far back as the 1940s, but Swiss voters only came to endorse it in a 1992 referendum. The project achieved more support in 1994 when environmental groups proposed moving all road freight to rail transport.

Approximately 2,600 people were put to work throughout the course of the project, according to AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd data. AlpTransit, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swiss Federal Railways, oversees construction of the rail link through the Alps.

Crews worked around the clock 365 days a year for nearly 20 years to achieve what the country called its "construction of the century," CNN reported.

Nine workers died in accidents throughout the course of tunnel construction. They were remembered in a memorial service prior to the opening ceremonies.

Gotthard Tunnel Construction
AlpTransit Gotthard

To keep the newly dug tunnel from deforming, engineers reportedly developed a new method of using flexible steel rings that partly closed under the rock pressure to prevent deformations in the completed structure.

The tunnel build required:

  • 13 million cubic feet of concrete;
  • 1.4 million tons of cement;
  • 125,000 tons of steel rings;
  • 9.8 million square feet of steel mesh;
  • 2,983 miles of rock anchors;
  • 16,000 tons of reinforcement; and
  • 9.35 million square feet of sealing and drainage foil.

In addition to the tunnel itself, a number of additional built structures, including underpasses and bridges, were constructed for the tunnel approaches.

Overcoming Tunnel Challenges

Crews dug 80 percent of the tunnel with a boring machine and used conventional digging and blasting for the remaining 20 percent of the job. The 30-foot-diameter tunnel-boring machine was able to dig forward by 40 meters a day—a world record, the BBC said in a separate report.

Workers reportedly blasted and dug through 73 different kinds of rock, some as hard as granite and others described as being as soft as butter.

Because the weight of the mountain above the tunnel work and high rock stresses threatened to deform the tunnel, workers had to install special supports in certain places, AlpTransit noted.

Engineers developed a new method using flexible steel rings that partly closed under the rock pressure to prevent deformations in the completed structure, it said.

Gotthard Tunnel construction
AlpTransit Gotthard

More than 28 million tons of rock excavated during the tunnel boring was later broken down to help make the concrete used to build the tunnel.

The more than 28 million tons of excavated rock was later broken down to help make the concrete used to build the tunnel.

Financing and Freight Transformation

The new record-breaking tunnel is financed by value-added and fuel taxes, road usage fees on heavy vehicles, and state loans scheduled to be paid back within 10 years.

However, the economic benefits the tunnel—which is actually two tunnels, each running a single line of tracks for high-speed trains—will bring by way of increased trade and travel efficiency are expected to largely offset the construction costs, according to CNN.

Travelling between Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Genoa, the twin tunnel system is expected to transport freight both more safely and much faster—at speeds of up to 155 mph, with no risk of collisions.

It is estimated that approximately 260 freight and 65 passenger trains will use the tunnel every day.

Full commercial service through the tunnel is slated to begin in December.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Cement; concrete; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Rail; Steel; Transportation; Tunnel

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