San Gotthard Tunnel: An Engineering Work of Art

The "Workiste of the Century" opened in 1996

The San Gotthard Tunnel is the world's longest railway tunnel. Measuring 57 km (56.978 km for the Western tunnel and 57.091 for the Eastern one), it connects the two Swiss locations of Erstfeld (in the Uri Canton) to Bodio (in Ticino).

The San Gotthard Tunnel was inaugurated on June 1, 2016. It brought a newly established record to the area, already accustomed to winning these types of records. Extending for 15 kilometres, the first railway tunnel cutting through this mountain massif, was built in 1882. It was, at the time, the world's longest, until it was beaten, in 1906, by the Sempione Tunnel. In 1980, an even newer record was set by the San Gotthard Tunnel. Measuring 16.9 kilometres, it was, at the time, the world's longest road tunnel. When Norway's Lærdal Tunnel was subsequently built, the San Gotthard passed from first to second position.
The Swiss, thanks to this railway tunnel, won a new record that, as said by many, no one will most likely beat for a very long time, not even the Turin-Lyon Tunnel. The extraordinary numbers of this engineering work of art go well beyond its extension. 12,200,000,000 Swiss Francs were spent to build it, the same amount required for the London Olympic Games. 4,000,000 m3 of concrete were used for its construction, the equivalent used for 84 Empire State Buildings, and 3,200 kilometres of copper, an amount slightly lower than the distance covered from Zurich to Baghdad.
Huge investments were made for it. Considering today’s and future use of the (when all other European rail lines of this same line will also be completed) all efforts made worth certainly worthwhile. The Alp Transit, Swiss project will connect Milan to Zurich in less than 3 hours, once completed.

Before the New San Gotthard Tunnel was built

The idea of building a long and more extended tunnel under the San Gotthard, compared to the one built in 1800, goes a long way back. The first project dates to 1961. Since then, many projects followed in sequence, offering many new variants and hypothesis, each time accompanied, by new financing plans. Road traffic increased during the last decades, requiring a greater use of rail traffic, and the Alpine Protection Act put this black on white.

San Gotthard Tunnel: Building the Work of the Century

In 1992, Swiss citizens were asked what they thought about building the San Gotthard Tunnel. 64% of them approved the Alp Transit Project. So, works began being organized, with the excavations taking off in 1996. The project was appointed to AlpTransit San Gottardo SA, a company entirely controlled by the Swiss Railway service. To reduce construction times, excavations began in four different worksites, at the same time, and a fifth was also added later. The two parallel tunnels were excavated from Erstfeld, Bodio, Amsteg, Sedrun and Faido. Small side connecting tunnels were also built to connect, every 325 metres, the two main tunnels, for safety reasons.
The San Gotthrad Tunnel is also equipped with two multifunctional emergency stations at Sedrun and Faido. Two huge ventilation systems can be found here, and in case of need, trains can also be stopped and change direction. Passengers, in emergency situations, can also be transferred on foot. Sedrun's emergency station, in particular, can be reached through a 1km-long tunnel, which starts downhill from the small Swiss village. At the end of this tunnel, two vertical tunnels connect to the main one. The idea of making the Sedrun station an open train station was also proposed, but due to the consequent estimated high costs, it was soon forgotten.

2,600 people worked at the San Gotthard Tunnel project. 9 of these lost their lives (among these also an Italian, Andrea Astorino, who was hit by a service vehicle, in 2005, with his Swiss colleague, Salvatore di Benedetto). After 14 years of work, also carried out with a 410 metres milling machine, in 2010, the Eastern tunnel's diapraghm finally came down; On March 23, of the following year, the Western tunnel side was also completed. Tests were subsequently carried out and the last sleeper was laid on the tracks, during Autumn 2014. On June 1, 2016, AlpTransit San Gottardo SA finally handed the tunnel to the Swiss Federal Railway. The service opened to passenger traffic on December 2016, a few months ahead of schedule.

A Railway Architecture Masterpiece

A Swiss and European engineering masterpiece, the San Gotthard Tunnel was defined the engineering “Work of the Century”, many times. Many extraordinary things make it special: the project numbers, its ambitious aims, and the extreme conditions suffered by hundreds of miners, workers and engineers who, for 17 years, worked without ventilation, with temperatures often reaching 40 °C. The San Gotthard Tunnel, an evened surfaced high-speed railway tunnel, is not merely the world's longest, but also its deepest, as its rock-covering reaches 2,300 metres. Despite this, it’s an extremely safe structure. In fact, due to its continuous connecting tunnels, joining the two main ones, the two stations dividing the tunnel into three parts, and the many detection systems automatically activating when the load changes, should the axis of the train carriages overheat, a fire ignite or dangerous gases escape.