In time, but not in budget
With the gathering of the one thousand randomly selected representatives of the public for the first trips through the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) on the morning of June 1, the opening festivities for the world’s longest railway tunnel have begun. For the festival involving half a dozen heads of state and government, everything was ready. More than 2 000 individuals from the army, police, federal government, Swiss Federal Railways, AlpTransit Gotthard (ATG) and private companies were in action. In addition, 300 media professionals have been accredited from around 20 nations, including the USA, Canada, China, Japan, Kuwait and Chile as well as Switzerland's neighbouring countries. In total, around 160 000 interested people from the public applied for a seat in the trains to be travelled officially for the first time through the GBT.
GBT will serve as railway base tunnel by the beginning of December 2016 through the Alps in Switzerland. With a route length of 57 km, it is the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel and the first flat, low-level route through the Alps. The project consists of two single-track tunnels connecting Erstfeld (Uri) with Bodio (Ticino) and passing below Sedrun (Graubünden). It is part of the AlpTransit project, also known as the New Railway Link through the Alps (NRLA), which includes the Lötschberg Base Tunnel between the cantons of Bern and Valais and the Ceneri Base Tunnel (under construction, scheduled to open late 2020) to the south. It bypasses the Gotthardbahn, a winding mountain route opened in 1882 across the Saint-Gotthard Massif, which is now operating at capacity, and establishes a direct route usable by high-speed rail and heavy freight trains.
The main purpose of the GBT is to increase local transport capacity through the Alpine barrier, especially for freight, notably on the Rotterdam–Basel–Genoa corridor, and more particularly to shift freight volumes from trucks to freight trains. This not only significantly reduces the danger of fatal road crashes involving trucks, but also reduce the environmental damage caused by the ever-increasing amount of freight hauled by heavy trucks. The tunnel will provide a faster connection between the canton of Ticino and the rest of Switzerland, as well as between northern and southern Europe, cutting the Zürich–Lugano–Milan journey time for passenger trains by one hour.
After 64 percent of Swiss voters accepted the AlpTransit project in a 1992 referendum, tunnel construction began in 1996. Drilling operations in the eastern tunnel were completed in October 2010 in a breakthrough ceremony broadcast and in the western tunnel in March 2011. The tunnels’ constructor, ATG, originally planned to hand-over the tunnel to Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) in operating condition in December 2016 but, in February 2014, the hand-over date was changed to June 5, 2016, with the commencement of an 850-day opening countdown calendar on the AlpTransit homepage. The total projected cost of the project was 9.8 billion Swiss francs (8.85 billion euros) but the final cost exceeded 10.7 billion euros.