While most of us have been keeping track of what’s happening with new computers or airplanes, Swiss engineers have been hard at work on the biggest construction project in decades. Under the Alps. Today, on Engineering Works!
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is actually two tunnels, each more than 30 feet in diameter and more than 35 miles long. It’s the longest tunnel ever built. Drilling began in 1996 and when it opens, probably in 2016 or 2017, it will carry part of a high-speed rail link between Zurich, Switzerland, and Milan, Italy. Engineering experts say it’s the biggest and most complicated construction project since the Panama Canal.
Here are some of the details.
To get to this point, eight huge drilling machines chewed out 23 million tons of rock. On a good day each of them got through about 130 feet. To help work move faster, a half-mile-deep shaft was sunk from the surface at the tunnel’s half-way point. From there, engineers drilled toward each end.
It wasn’t always easy. Unstable rock forced them to relocate an emergency shelter. And at one point, one of the drilling machines was buried by rock falling from the tunnel roof and stalled for six months.
Trains using the two tunnels will travel at almost 150 miles per hour. It will cut travel time from Zurich to Milan almost in half, to two and a half hours. That’s faster than flying.
Our way home is on the surface, and that’s fine with us. See you next time.
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Start the discussion: Construction projects like these tunnels under the Alps are always impressive. It’s interesting that once the train service gets under way, it’ll be faster to travel from Zurich to Milan by train than to fly.