On 2 June 2015 the 365 day countdown to the official opening of the new Gotthard base rail tunnel started. The 57 kilometre long train tunnel is scheduled to open on 1 June 2016. It is the world’s longest train tunnel, longer than the Channel Tunnel and the Seikan Tunnel in Japan, which links the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokaido. The 200 km/h tunnel journey, which starts in the German-speaking Swiss canton of Uri and ends in the Italian speaking canton of Ticino, will take a full 17 minutes. This distance, which is close to the trip from Lausanne to Geneva will be covered in half of the time it takes to train between these cities.
The plans were conceived 68 years ago with construction starting 51 years later (17 years ago). Boring of the tunnel finished on 15 October 2010 and created over 28 million tonnes of rubble (the weight of over 60,000 fully loaded jumbo jets) using a machine the length of four football fields. At one point the tunnel is 2.3 km underground. When completed it will take 325 trains a day, shaving 45 minutes off the current travel time to and from Zurich and Lugano as well as Milan and other onward destinations.
The Swiss Rail website, Gottardo 2016, dedicated to the countdown opens with the strap line: “Swiss people like to arrive on time. That’s why they love shortcuts.” A fitting slogan for a country that produces so many of the world’s watches and has trains that are nearly always on time.
During the weekend of 4 and 5 June 2016, 50,000 to 100,000 visitors are expected for festivals at both ends of the tunnel.