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Cars and Transportation

First train through world's longest rail tunnel

December 11, 2016

After 17 years and 11 billion euros, the first Gotthard Base Tunnel passenger train departed Zurich on Sunday morning. The express train will save passengers 30 minutes on the trip.

Schweiz Gotthard Basistunnel
Image: picture alliance/dpa/U. Flueeler

The first passenger train to travel through the longest rail tunnel in the world departed Zurich Sunday morning, after 17 years of construction.

The 57-kilometer (35-mile) Gotthard Base Tunnel officially opened six months ago in a colorful ceremony attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

At 6:09 a.m. the EC11 express train to Lugano was the first regular passenger train to depart for the tunnel after thousands of test runs.

Some passengers shared their excitement ahead of the journey on social media.

The journey through the tunnel takes about 20 minutes, shaving 30 minutes off the route from the north of Switzerland to the south. When the 15-kilometer-long Ceneri Base Tunnel opens in late 2020 it will shave up to an hour off the trip. 

Trains will initially travel at 200 kilometers per hour (124 mph) for safety reasons before increasing to 250 kph.

Each day about 50 passenger trains and up to 260 freight trains will use the tunnel. The first flat, low-level route through the Alps bypasses a winding mountain track that was opened in 1882.

The 11 billion-euro ($11.6 billion) tunnel has a maximum depth of more than 2,300 meters (7,590 feet), making it the world's deepest tunnel, as well as its longest. Nine people died during its 17-year construction, which was completed a year ahead of schedule.

It pushed Japan's 53.9-kilometer Seikan Tunnel into second place and the 50.5-kilometer Channel Tunnel, which links England to France, into third place.

The official Swiss Tourism account celebrated its opening on Twitter.

The main purpose of the new tunnel was to increase the freight capacity of Switzerland's rail network and reduce the fatal crashes and environmental damage caused by truck freight. Now 260 freight trains can pass through the Gotthard mountain range each day, compared to 180 on the current route.

The monumental project received financial and engineering support from around the European Union.

At the opening ceremony, Merkel said the tunnel was a symbol of the connectedness of people in Europe.

"We have a lot of discussion in the Schengen zone, also because of the refugees, on how we can preserve the freedom of movement within Europe," the chancellor said.

The tunnel "would connect people and cultures and strengthen connections. I think that is wonderful," she added.

aw/jlw (dpa, AFP)

Gotthard Base Tunnel ready to open