Today marks a big day for Switzerland, and for Europe as a whole: the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel, the largest rail tunnel in the world, is finally complete after 17 years and over $12 billion.
In 1992, Switzerland’s citizens voted on a referendum that aimed to move freight transport from road to rail, and ultimately to build a large tunnel deep through the Swiss Alps, helping to link trade between Europe’s busiest trading port—Rotterdam—and Genoa, Italy.
That tunnel just opened today after 17 years of construction, and links the towns of Erstfeld and Bodio, spanning 35 miles in length. It aims to take the place of millions of semi-trucks that would otherwise clog Switzerland’s roadway transporting goods across the mountain range.
The BBC reports that workers had to displace 31 million tons of 73 different kinds of rock to build the tunnel, which sits up to 1.4 miles below the alpine surface, and cuts through rock reaching temperatures of up to 115 fahrenheit.
The tunnel is a big deal, as bigwigs like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande (all pictured above sitting like commoners) showed up for the opening ceremony.
Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann told The BBC the tunnel is “giant step for Switzerland but equally for our neighbors and the rest of the continent”.
Not only does the Gotthard tunnel promise faster and cheaper transport of goods between countries separated by the alps, but it also offers faster travel time for travelers, as 65 passenger trains will pass through the tunnel each day along with 260 freight trains.
The BBC says the trip from Zurich, Switzerland to Milan, Italy, for example—normally a three hour and 40 minute trek— and will drop by an entire hour.
Even more remarkable is that despite the $12 billion expenditure and the 17 year construction time, the tunnel was actually built on time and within budget. Incredible.