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Drill breaks through to open world's longest tunnel

Reuters

A giant rock drill has broken through a last section of Alpine rock to open the world’s longest tunnel after 15 years of digging through 13 million cubic metres of rock.

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The third tunnel to be built under the snowbound St Gotthard pass in the Swiss Alps is 57 kilometres long, three kilometres longer than the current record holder, the Seikan rail link will between two Japanese islands.

It will house a high-speed rail link due to open in 2017 between Zurich and Milan, a key part of a network joining northern and south-eastern Europe.

The breakthrough, attended by 200 dignitaries 30 kilometres inside the tunnel, was broadcast live on Swiss television and watched by European transport ministers at a meeting in Brussels.

Eight workers have died during the tunnel’s construction and the 2,000 miners’ efforts were marked by a celebration just above the breakthrough point in the village of Sedrun.

The tunnel will have economic benefits, with about 300 trains travelling through it at up to 250 kilometres per hour, cutting the Zurich-Milan journey by an hour and linking to lines going into Germany.

But it was also the fruit of campaigns by environmentalists, who demanded a cut in trans-Alpine road traffic, winning a referendum in 1994 to stop heavy goods vehicles crossing the mountains.

In recent years, Austria, France and Italy have set in motion two similar rail tunnel projects through the eastern and western Alps. They are both planned to exceed 50 kilometres in length in the 2020s.

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