Swiss celebrate longest tunnel breakthrough

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This photo of a TV screen shows the live feed broadcast on Swiss television showing workers in the Gotthard Base Tunnel celebrating the final breakthrough of rock in the construction of the world's longest railroad tunnel. The tunnel will open to train traffic in 2017.
Armin Schmutz
SEDRUN, Switzerland – At 2:15 p.m. Friday, Swiss engineers using a tunnel boring machine smashed through the last stretch of rock to create the world's longest tunnel, which has been 60 years in the making, according to a story from the Associated Press.

Trumpets sounded, cheers reverberated, and even burly workers wiped away tears as foreman Eduard Baer lifted a statue of Saint Barbara — the patron saint of miners — through a small hole in the enormous drilling machine thousands of feet underground in central Switzerland.

At that moment, a 35.4-mile tunnel was born, and the Alpine nation reclaimed the record from Japan's 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel. Television stations across Europe showed the event live.

The breakthrough occurred beneath the Alpine peak Piz Vatgira, almost equidistant from the ends of the long tunnel. The deviation at the breakthrough point was a mere 3 inches horizontally and a third of an inch vertically.

Only 200 people, including tunnel workers, Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger, and a few guests were on hand to witness the tunnel breakthrough, since access to the area occurs through a mid-bore entry point that involves riding a 0.6-mile work train, followed by an elevator drop of 2,600 feet, then another work train ride for 3 and-a-half miles. Tunnel employees at other construction sites watched the breakthrough on giant video screens.

The new Gotthard Base Tunnel is as an important milestone in the creation of a high-speed transportation network connecting all corners of Europe.

First conceived in 1947 by engineer Eduard Gruner, the tunnel will allow millions of tons of goods that are currently transported through the Alps on heavy trucks to be shifted onto railroads, particularly on the economically important lane between the Dutch port of Rotterdam and Italy's Mediterranean port of Genoa.

Construction began in 1993, when the first exploratory bores were drilled. Since then, work has occurred simultaneously in five tunnel sections. The tunnel consists of two parallel single-track bores connected by cross passageways. In all, some 94 miles of tunnels, connecting shafts, galleries, and caverns will be dug before the project is complete — 56 percent using tunnel boring machines and 44 percent excavated by blasting.

The $10 billion tunnel will open for rail traffic in 2017 and allow passenger and cargo trains to pass under the Alps at speeds of up to 155 mph. — Armin Schmutz and David Lustig
SEDRUN, Switzerland – At 2:15 p.m. Friday, Swiss engineers using a tunnel boring machine smashed through the last stretch of rock to create the world's longest tunnel, which has been 60 years in the making, according to a story from the Associated Press.

Trumpets sounded, cheers reverberated, and even burly workers wiped away tears as foreman Eduard Baer lifted a statue of Saint Barbara — the patron saint of miners — through a small hole in the enormous drilling machine thousands of feet underground in central Switzerland.

At that moment, a 35.4-mile tunnel was born, and the Alpine nation reclaimed the record from Japan's 33.5-mile Seikan Tunnel. Television stations across Europe showed the event live.

The breakthrough occurred beneath the Alpine peak Piz Vatgira, almost equidistant from the ends of the long tunnel. The deviation at the breakthrough point was a mere 3 inches horizontally and a third of an inch vertically.

Only 200 people, including tunnel workers, Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger, and a few guests were on hand to witness the tunnel breakthrough, since access to the area occurs through a mid-bore entry point that involves riding a 0.6-mile work train, followed by an elevator drop of 2,600 feet, then another work train ride for 3 and-a-half miles. Tunnel employees at other construction sites watched the breakthrough on giant video screens.

The new Gotthard Base Tunnel is as an important milestone in the creation of a high-speed transportation network connecting all corners of Europe.

First conceived in 1947 by engineer Eduard Gruner, the tunnel will allow millions of tons of goods that are currently transported through the Alps on heavy trucks to be shifted onto railroads, particularly on the economically important lane between the Dutch port of Rotterdam and Italy's Mediterranean port of Genoa.

Construction began in 1993, when the first exploratory bores were drilled. Since then, work has occurred simultaneously in five tunnel sections. The tunnel consists of two parallel single-track bores connected by cross passageways. In all, some 94 miles of tunnels, connecting shafts, galleries, and caverns will be dug before the project is complete — 56 percent using tunnel boring machines and 44 percent excavated by blasting.

The $10 billion tunnel will open for rail traffic in 2017 and allow passenger and cargo trains to pass under the Alps at speeds of up to 155 mph. — Armin Schmutz and David Lustig
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