The world was captivated earlier this week by the incredible engineering achievement of drilling teams to bore through 2300 feet of the granite rock of the Andes in less than two months to successfully provide a rescue portal for 33 trapped Chilean miners. This same week another drilling milestone was achieved in the Swiss Alps every bit as awesome in its achievement and unsurpassed in its scope. Since Roman times the perilous journey from northern to southern Europe has been blocked by the granite majesty of the alps with only two viable portals, the St. Gotthard and St. Bernard passes providing arduous and time consuming causeways for the motivated traveller. In modern times these passes have been successfully traversed by roads that make trans-European travel viable, but there has been increasing concern for the threat of damage to the local alpine environment caused by increasingly high volume truck and rail freight travel through the passes. The Swiss, however, are a particularly focused people acutely aware of their unique position on the European continent and the integral role the soaring alpine vistas play in the formation of their national character. Over two decades ago, they determined to do something about the increasing congestion. The something was a massive public works project costing over 10 billion dollars and 23 years to completion- and what a project it has been.
This week the Swiss nation celebrated the completed drilling of a 35.4 mile tunnel under the Gotthard that now forms the longest transport tunnel in the world, surpassing the Seikan Tunnel in Japan by over a mile. The Swiss are no strangers to tunnel technology and achievement owning 3 of the 20 longest transport tunnels currently serving world travellers. The achievement at this time is one of connectivity only as the viable use of the tunnel is expected to take 7 more years to initiate.
When all is said and done, the tunnel is expected to reduce the travel time for road freight slightly over one hour in passage through versus over the Gotthard, but more importantly to the Swiss, remove the visual damage to their beloved alps caused by the travel of people looking to pass through the country, not be a part of it. Only the Swiss can say if it is worth three decades and billions of dollars to achieve this engineering marvel for the sheer joy of returning the Gotthard Pass to something closer to the vistas enjoyed by Europe’s first hardy travellers. The toll to each Swiss citizen for this investment, 1300 dollars apiece. Hopefully, the next time I travel the pass, they won’t try to get their investment back all in one transit through the tunnel.