Straddling the border between France, Italy and Germany lie the Alps, a majestic spectacle to behold. But also an impediment to cross-border progress, it must be said. The vertiginous roads that wind and wriggle across these rugged mountains are hazardous to traverse, resulting in traffic jams, environmental damage and much gritting of teeth for all concerned.
It’s easy to understand why the governments of all three countries were eager to commission a passage to cut through the mountains. The Gotthard Base Tunnel, as it is known, burrows beneath the Alps, obviating the need to negotiate mountainous chicanes altogether. When it is completed, the tunnel will not only speed up the transportation of goods and flow of traffic, but could conceivably provide a new way for tourists to reach the ski resorts at the summit. The world’s largest elevator is being mooted as an accessory to what is already a gargantuan undertaking.
The 35-mile railway tunnel will be the longest of its type upon completion, overtaking the Seikan Tunnel in Japan. With twin tracks enabling high speed trains to hurtle through at up to 155 mph, commuting time between Zurich and Milan will be significantly reduced. Construction has been hastened by the building of four access tunnels, enabling work to be conducted on all four sections simultaneously, while a fifth has recently been added. The project, currently on schedule, is due for completion in 2016.
It may arrive on time, but it certainly won’t be arriving on budget – originally costed at £6.4 billion, that figure has now spiraled to £10 billion. Eight of the 20,000 workers involved in the tunnel’s construction have died thus far, leading some to question the true price of this mammoth undertaking. Not all of the problems affecting the project are subterranean either – last week 30 police officers were injured in clashes with protestors objecting to the rail link. Demonstrators near Turin gathered to draw attention to the area of outstanding natural beauty they claim will be destroyed by the line’s encroachment. Five people were arrested during the protests, which were blamed on the work of left-wing extremists. » Read more: Gotthard Base Tunnel Sees Daylight