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SWITZERLAND – Whilst the world watched with bated breath the unfolding drama of the Chilean mine rescue there was a collective sigh of relief as the drill ‘bucket’ finally broke through into the chamber holding the thirty three trapped miners. But on the other side of the earth drilling continues to enlarge a small hole which, when completed this week, should see the final breakthrough for the longest rail tunnel anywhere on the globe and issue in a newer, faster future for freight in one part of Europe.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) should finally become reality on the 15th October, several months ahead of the original schedule, meaning the 57 kilometre tunnel is the longest continuous underground rail line surpassing even the Seikan undersea link in Japan. The GBT also known as the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) or NEAT to give it its German acronym, is due to open for business in 2017, although if progress continues as it has so far a year earlier seems more likely.
Anyone familiar with the European truck haulage market knows how resistant the Swiss have always been to heavy vehicles on their roads. When they finally conceded the need to raise weight limits from 28 to 40 tonnes a heavy vehicle tax was levied to penalise those who chose the route over the previous favourites, France and Austria. The country has always promoted freight by rail as the most sensible option and the new €15 billion tunnel is the logical result.
This third St Gotthard tunnel (the 1882 Gotthard Rail Tunnel and the 1980 Gotthard Road Tunnel precede it) is an engineering feat to rival the Millau Viaduct and anyone interested in seeing the scope of the works should use the link HERE for a full photographic record. The tunnel will allow the passage of high speed rail passenger trains at up to 270 kilometres per hour and shorten freight delivery times dramatically as the wagons reach 160 kph whilst transiting under the mountain.
The new link will reduce the transit time between Zürich and Milan by an hour with comparable and even greater savings between other towns, more to the point at 4000 tonnes the freight trains will carry twice the current amount of containers shipping between Switzerland and the rest of Europe, taking pressure of the Swiss road network and providing a clear example to the rest of the world of the future for land based freight haulage.
Photo:- Whereas at 26” the drill bit used in the rescue operation in Chile is considered large, the ones used for the CRLA are on a completely different scale courtesy AGN.
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