It all began with a popular vote on December 16, 1992. That very day, the Swiss decided to implement AlpTransit, a project that would drastically cut travel times from one side of the Alps to the other.
In late 1999 when the rest of the world was concerned about the Y2K bug, four tunnel entrances started to visibly take shape in Switzerland. What is now being inaugurated as the Gotthard Base Tunnel took 17 years of round-the-clock work. (Or did you think drilling through a mountain range was easy?)
The Gotthard Rail Tunnel is the world's longest and deepest
Switzerland might not have the longest rail bridge, but it can now claim the longest rail tunnel in the world. For one, the Swiss constructed two separate tunnels for each direction at 57 km a pop. But to keep the tracks as level as possible, they had to drill 2300 meters below the mountain. This makes the Gotthard Base Tunnel the deepest tunnel on Planet Earth.
So, 134 years after the ligne classique was opened, the Swiss rail network has a very visible new addition. And here are some more interesting facts you probably did not know about the Gotthard Base Tunnel:
Can you believe it? They have actually built two sections inside the tunnel where trains can change to the other one-way tunnel. This can be used, for example, in emergencies or when an issue causes one tunnel to be out of operation.
The deepest point of the tunnel is 2.3 kilometers below Piz Vatgira - that's 1.5 times the depth of the Grand Canyon as seen from the rim! Can you imagine zipping through a tunnel buried 2300 meters below ground?
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is 3 km longer than the previous record holder. The Seikan Tunnel connects Japan's Honshu and Hokkaido islands under the sea, measuring roughly 54 km.
4 information centers
During most of the construction period, four information centers were built to inform those who were rather curious about the new tunnel. Their locations were in Amsteg, Bodio, Faido, and Sedrun.
In the event of an emergency, dedicated rescue cars are to be put into service 5 minutes after the alarm sounds from either tunnel portal - north or south.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel was not drilled from north to south, nor the other way around. Instead, it was constructed in five individual segments.
This is how long you will have to wait from June 2016 for regular train service through the tunnel. (With the new train schedules released in December 2016, get used to travel from Erstfeld to Bodio instead of Göschenen to Airolo.)[adrotate banner="91"]
And the best part? An escape to sunny Ticino or fashionable Milano has never been faster: Travellers will eventually save 45 minutes off a trip from Zürich to Lugano.
This is how long a trip through the tunnel takes. Thanks to the safety exits every few hundred meters, the ride never gets boring.
28.2 million tons
The amount of rock that was excavated from the Alps over the years. In a clever move, the engineers "recycled" most of the rock and returned it to the inside of the mountain as concrete. The rest was used to level the mountainous terrain, and the rest of the rest to create three artificial islands in Lake Uri!
40 degrees Celsius
You thought "mountains" were about "cold", right? Not so. "Hot" here is the term! During works, temperatures inside the tunnel went upwards of 40°C!
According to the SBB's Via magazine, this is how much faster the new Gotthard tunnel will be compared to the conventional tunnel. (These figures are for weekend trips only. Real traffic is expected to be faster, still!)
Wait, wasn't the tunnel "just" 57 km long? Technically, no.
According to AlpTransit which was responsible for making the tunnel project happen, the true length of all tunnels drilled is closer to 152 km. This includes two tunnels, one for each direction, as well as access and safety tunnels!
The speed at which trains will be able to whizz through the new tunnel. This speed is still significantly lower than what Chinese high speed trains (300 km/h) or the Japanese Shinkansen (up to 320 km/h) have to offer. But one train operator called the experience of speeding through the new Gotthard tunnel like floating on air...
Upwards of a thousand people, representing the Swiss population, traveled on the first-ever train through the new tunnel on June 1, 2016. This was even before any high-ranking guests from the Swiss and foreign governments had a chance to pass through. The lucky souls were chosen from a lottery of 160000 people, representing a "Thank you" to the Swiss population for voting "Yes" to the new tunnel project over 20 years ago.
In terms of this trip, Newly Swissed arrived late. But we did come before those who would have otherwise waited on the opening of the new tunnel when it becomes integrated into the national railway timetables in December 2016...
The number of workers at peak times who were simultaneously involved in digging Switzerland's tube. It is safe to say that most of the Swiss population was unaware of the Herculean efforts going on every day for 17 years.
This here was literally a breakthrough moment:
(Photograph copyright gottardo2016.ch/SBB)