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World's longest rail tunnel makes breakthrough

New rail link under the Swiss Alps will cut travel times in Europe

Tunnelers celebrate the breakthrough last Friday. Photo by Getty
Tunnelers celebrate the breakthrough last Friday. Photo by Getty
The huge TBM sits motionless after 17 years cutting through solid rock to complete the rail tunnel. Photo by Getty.
The huge TBM sits motionless after 17 years cutting through solid rock to complete the rail tunnel. Photo by Getty.

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The world's longest railway tunnel made an impressive breakthrough last Friday when tunnellers bore through the last few metres of rock to link the north and south ends of the easterly shaft of the Gotthard tunnel under the Swiss Alps.

At 57km long, the tunnel is easily the longest rail link in the world, eclipsing the Channel Tunnel between England and France, and even the Lötschberg Tunnel under the Alps in western Switzerland which opened two years ago.

The tunnel has taken 17 years to bore through the mountains and engineers say it won't be open for at least another six , but when it finally does open, it will provide a vital role in speeding rail travel between northern and southern Europe.

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The tunnel's twin shafts and elaborate interconnecting stations will replace a scenic but slow existing train service which winds around the Alps, with steep gradients and countless curves which restrict train speeds and loads they are able to haul.

The new links is expended to cut travel between Milan and Zurich by just under an hour (2hr 50mins).

The accuracy of the tunnel bore was fairly impressive. At the tunnel's halfway point, it was out by only 8cm horizontally and 1cm vertically.

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