Loetschberg tunnel opens

19 March 2008

The Loetschberg Base Tunnel, the world's longest land-based tunnel, was officially opened in June. The 34,6 km rail link under the Swiss Alps is due to go into full operation in December following testing. The project cost CHF 4,3 billion (€ 2,6 billion).

Construction of the tunnel between Frutigen and Raron began in 1999. Described as a 'Base Tunnel' the link has been constructed at valley floor level, some 400 m below the original Loetschberg tunnel, built in 1913. Construction at this level allowed steep gradients and sharp bends to be removed from the route, allowing higher travel speeds.

The tunnel is part of the wider AlpTranist project, which is designed to take freight off Switzerland's roads. Loetschberg is the key link in the western part of the network, ultimately completing a high-speed rail link from Frankfurt, Germany and Paris, France to Milan and Turin in Italy. In eastern Switzerland the Zimmerberg, Gotthard and Ceneri Base Tunnels will provide a link from Stuttgart, Germany through Switzerland's commercial capital Zurich to Milan.

When complete in 2017 the 57 km Gotthard Base Tunnel will be the longest tunnel of any kind in the world. The longest tunnel in the world at present is the 53,8 km Seikan Tunnel, and undersea link connecting the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, which was opened in 1998. It is followed by the undersea Channel Tunnel between the UK and France, which is 51,5 km long and which was completed in 1994.

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