Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Friday, October 22, 2010



Workers, engineers, politicans and truckers all cheered under a sky of fireworks in the Southern Swiss city of Bodio this week. They had just finished the final bore through dense Alpine limestone, completing a decade of exhausting work by 2,500 workers from just about every single European nation. When other nations are cutting down on grand, expensive projects, Switzerland was able to hold her head high, and claim a superlative in the engineering world: Earth's longest tunnel! Long live the Gotthard!

Not that it was cheap to build. All in all, it took TEN BILLION DOLLARS to construct. But we must remember, it was approved in a series of ballot measures and complicated referendums, which began back in 1988 when people had money. Opposition at first was overpowering. Since the population of Switzerland is only eight million, it meant that every man, woman and child would have to pony up $1,300 to build the darn tunnel. But, the Swiss are rich, and politicians united the nation with one, hard-to-dispute simple fact. Whether you live in a tiny hamlet or in a Lake Geneva downtown chalet, the tunnel is good for the environment. And no one wants diesel fuel in the bottled alpine water.

When the original GOTTHARD TUNNEL was built, in 1888, it too was the longest tunnel in the world. It connected Zurich to Milan and opened up the heart of Switzerland to the outside world. It was hailed as an engineering milestone. But, over the last 130 years, the highways between Switzerland and Italy became a lot more crowded. Something like 1.2 million trucks spew heaps of exhaust as the twist and churn up the steep Alpine slopes on each side. The new tunnel will cut train travel time by 1.5 hours between Zurich and Milan as travelers will be swept under the Alps at 153.4 miles per hour! Since 70% of Switzerland's cargo is moved by rail, this will eliminate tons of waste.

So, for the time being, the Swiss have trumped the Japanese, whose SEIKAN tunnel, built in 1988, connects HONSHU with HOKAIDDO, Japan's two largest islands. But is was close: The Gotthard is 35.4 miles to the Seikan's 33.5 miles. But don't worry: You can still take the old route, made famous by such Alpine explorers as HANNIBAL and DUNER. It is one my favorite train routes on earth and highly recommended, no matter how much exhaust it takes.

No comments:

Post a Comment