The world’s longest and deepest railway tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland, opens officially today, 17 years after the first blast in the main shaft.

The two tunnel entrances are at Erstfeld/Rynächt and Pollegio, and it is part of the route from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, to Genoa, Italy.

The opening ceremony will include presentations by Swiss artists, with selected highlights of the artistic opening programme on view during the events for the general public on 4 and 5 June, when 50,000 to 100,000 visitors are expected at the festival sites on either end of the 57km tunnel.

There will also be tunnel rides with the Gotthard shuttle train travelling at up to 200km/h, and an interactive multimedia exhibition on the Gotthard.

The tunnel is being handed over to Swiss Federal Railways (SFR). At the official opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, besides the entire Federal Council, the heads of state and government of neighbouring countries, as well as the transport ministers of the countries along the Rotterdam-Genoa freight corridor, are also expected.

The tunnel has virtually no gradients, and is at its highest point 550m above sea level.

It will allow passenger trains to travel more quickly through the Alps and reduce the number of locomotives needed by freight trains. The Gotthard Base Tunnel will also shorten the travelling distance between Altdorf and Bellinzona by 30km.

During peak periods, around 2,400 people were working on the tunnel construction around the clock in three shifts. For the two main tunnels and the safety, ventilation and cross cuts, a total of 152km of tunnel has been bored. A total of 28.2 million tonnes of excavated material was removed from the tunnel.

The cost of the Gotthard Base Tunnel is estimated at CHF12.2 billion (€11.02 billion).

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