Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ends meet at world's longest tunnel

A worker and a visitor stand at the construction site of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel at the Erstfeld-Amsteg section. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA - A GIANT drilling machine will complete the world's longest tunnel beneath the Swiss Alps on Friday, paving the way for continuous high-speed rail travel between northern and south-eastern Europe.

The ceremonial breakthrough in the 57km long Gotthard base tunnel through the foot of the Alps is due to take place 30km from one end and 2,000m below a mountain.

Eight of some 2,500 tunnel workers have died since construction of the new railway link began in central Switzerland 15 years ago, blasting and boring through 13 million cubic metres of rock in hot and humid conditions.

By the time it opens for service in 2017, it will exceed the 53.8km Seikan rail tunnel linking the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido and the world's longest road tunnel, the 24.5km Laerdal in Norway.

Although the near 10 billion Swiss franc (S$12.8 billion) project is Swiss, it has fast taken on a continental dimension with the aim of unclogging one of the main north-south commercial routes between Germany and Italy.

European Union Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas on Tuesday called the new Gotthard tunnel 'a remarkable project'. Transport ministers from the 27-nation bloc are due to watch the breakthrough ceremony live on television during a regular meeting in Luxembourg, officials said. Switzerland is a not a member of the EU. -- AFP

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