Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The world’s longest rail tunnel

The concrete inner  shell of the completed eastern tunnel The concrete inner shell of the completed eastern tunnel AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd
25 Jun
2016
Northern and southern Europe reach new levels of connectivity, thanks to the opening of the world’s longest rail tunnel, under the Alps

Nearly seven decades since plans were first drawn up, and after 17 years of construction, this month finally saw the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) in Switzerland. At 57.1km, it becomes the world’s longest rail tunnel, knocking the 53.9km long Seikan Tunnel in Japan off the top spot, while the Channel Tunnel, at a mere 50.5km, is now the third longest.

The GBT is a key component of the ‘New Rail Link through the Alps’ (NRLA), a multidecadal project designed to enable high-speed rail to run all the way from northern European cities such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, via Cologne and Basel, down to Milan and Genoa, a route known as the European Rhine-Alpine Corridor. Two other tunnels are being constructed as part of the NRLA; the Lötschberg Base Tunnel (34.6km), which, although only partially-completed, has been in operation since 2007, and the Ceneri Base Tunnel (15.4km), set to open in 2020.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is a contribution that Switzerland is making to the integration, economic inter-dependence and wellbeing of our continent

Dr Peter Füglistaler, Director of the Swiss Federal Office for Transport, describes the GBT as ‘a major milestone in the national strategy to switch transit freight from road to rail. This remarkable tunnel will bring marked improvements to rail traffic on Switzerland’s most important north-south transit route, making rail significantly more attractive compared with the situation up to now.’

Füglistaler hopes that once the Ceneri Base Tunnel is open and improvement works on the approach routes have been completed, journey times for passenger trains between north and south Switzerland will be cut by around 45 minutes. ‘A trip from Zürich to Milan will in future take just three hours,’ he claims.

trainThe NRLA will provide high speed rail from North to South Europe (Image: AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd)

The final bill for the Gotthard Base Tunnel comes in at CHF12.2billion (£8.5billion), slightly over half the CHF23billion (£16billion) required to finance the entire NRLA. It’s money well spent, according to Füglistaler. ‘We have built this magnificent tunnel not just in our own national interest,’ he insists, ‘but also in the interest of Europe. The Gotthard Base Tunnel is a contribution that Switzerland is making to the integration, economic inter-dependence and wellbeing of our continent.’

However, Europe’s infrastructure continues to grow, and even the GBT is facing supersedence. The Brenner Base Tunnel (BBT), part of the Scandinavia-Mediterranean Corridor from Helsinki to Valletta, will run under the eastern Alps from Innsbruck, Austria, to Fortezza, Italy, and at a mighty 64km will become the longest underground rail link in the world upon its completion in 2026.

This was published in the July 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Deserts

An evening discussing Oman’s hidden conservation heritage. Fifty Geographical readers…

Deserts

Biosphere 2 was one of the most ambitious experiments in…

Forests

High-quality, affordable drones can revolutionise the way that landscape and…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the impact of volcanoes on nearby human…

Mapping

A volunteer-led digital mapping project is at the heart of…

Cities

As the planet urbanises, attention is turning towards the most…

Forests

Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many…

Cities

A rising number of cruise ships and their ‘overlooked’ diesel…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig charts the growth and impact of the world’s…

Deserts

Long-term studies reveal the Sahara desert has expanded substantially over…

Water

South America’s wealthiest economy is at a crossroads between environmental…

Forests

The European Court of Justice finds the logging of a…

Mountains

In this extract from his new book, Tides, mountain climber…

Cities

New data from the World Health Organization reveals that nine…

Water

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan,…

Mapping

Benjamin Hennig maps out the global production and distribution levels…

Water

Millions of Americans are living in areas at high-risk of…

Mapping

New interactive maps combine precipitation and temperature to show climate…

Cities

Public transport in India could be on the verge of…

Water

To retrace the route of the fur voyageurs on the waterways…