The world’s longest tunnel officially opened on Wednesday, with the trailblazing rail passage under the Swiss Alps aiming to ease transit through the heart of Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were on board for the inaugural 20-minute trip through 57-kilometre (35-mile) Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Constructing the 57-kilometre (35-mile) rail tunnel took just over 12 billion Swiss francs (USD 12 billion, 11 billion euros) and some 2,400 workers, according to Swiss government statistics.
More than 28 million tonnes of rock had to be excavated from the mountain near the Gotthard pass.
The bumpy road from Gruner’s initial idea to the official start of construction in 1999 included bureaucratic delays and concern over the project’s financial viability.
Switzerland’s federal government set up a committee in 1963 to look into the building of an alpine base tunnel but opinions were split over various proposals, before an official body eventually ruled in 1983 that the project was “not urgent.”
Momentum in favour of the GBT built again ahead of a 1992 referendum, which supported the project, but public outcry about the expense put work on hold.
Eventually, a November 1998 referendum closed the deal, when 64 per cent of Swiss voters approved the final plans along with funding schemes, including a new road tax.