Swiss declare Alps tamed as Gotthard rail tunnel opens

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Swiss declare Alps tamed as Gotthard rail tunnel opens
Journalists stand on a platform at a multifunction and emergency stop station of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel during a media visit near the town of Sedrun, Switzerland March 10, 2016. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016, consisting of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles). REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Guests waves at a train that has crossed the tunnel during the opening ceremony of the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world's longest and deepest rail tunnel, near the town of Erstfeld, Switzerland June 1, 2016. The 57.1-km (35.5 mile)-long Gotthard Base Tunnel, 17 years under construction and designed to last a century, is part of a 23 billion Swiss franc (23.1 billion USD) infrastructure project to speed passengers and cargo by rail below the Alps, as much as 2.3 km (1.7 miles) under the mountain chain, that divides Europe's north and south. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Workers cycle past the northern entrances of the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
(L-R) France's President Francois Hollande, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Switzerland's President Johann Schneider-Ammann look on after travelling through the Gotthard Rail Tunnel, the longest tunnel in the world, on its opening day, at the southern portal in Pollegio, Switzerland, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Klauzner/Pool
A worker places parts during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Faido May 12, 2014. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles). REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
An employee of AlpTransit Gotthard Ltd and a visitor stand at the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker uses a hammer during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker stands beside mobile maschinery during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
Workers sitting on the special train 'Helvetia' distribute fresh concrete on the track bed of the rails in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. The train, which is 481 metres (1578 ft) long and weighs 787 tons, is constructed to produce concrete for the installation of the railway tracks in the tunnel. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles ) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
An Austrian and a German national flag fly on mobile machinery during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
Workers drive on a special vehicle during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
Workers use torque wrenches to fix screw nuts during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
An engineer sits on the special train 'Helvetia' in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. The train, which is 481 metres (1578 ft) long and weighs 787 tons, is constructed to produce concrete for the installation of the railway tracks in the tunnel. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker stands on the special train 'Helvetia' in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. The train, which is 481 metres (1578 ft) long and weighs 787 tons, is constructed to produce concrete for the installation of the railway tracks in the tunnel. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles ) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker uses a measuring gauge during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
Workers use finishing trowels to plane fresh concrete on the track bed of the rails in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker receives instructions from an engineer during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker stands on the special train 'Helvetia' in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. The train, which is 481 metres (1578 ft) long and weighs 787 tons, is constructed to produce concrete for the installation of the railway tracks in the tunnel. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles ) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker use torque wrench to fix screw nuts during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
Workers joke during a break beside the special train 'Helvetia' in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. The train, which is 481 metres (1578 ft) long and weighs 787 tons, is constructed to produce concrete for the installation of the railway tracks in the tunnel. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
Workers use torque wrenches to fix screw nuts during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker adjusts a laser measuring gauge during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
An employee looks at monitors to control the mixture of concrete on the special train 'Helvetia' in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. The train, which is 481 metres (1578 ft) long and weighs 787 tons, is constructed to produce concrete for the installation of the railway tracks in the tunnel. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
A worker prepares tools and material during the installation of the railway tracks in the NEAT Gotthard Base tunnel near Erstfeld May 7, 2012. Crossing the Alps, the world's longest train tunnel should become operational at the end of 2016. The project consists of two parallel single track tunnels, each of a length of 57 km (35 miles) REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYMENT TRAVEL)
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POLLEGIO, Switzerland, June 1 (Reuters) - Switzerland opened the world's longest and deepest rail tunnel through the heart of the Alps on Wednesday in an engineering marvel hailed as a symbol of European unity at a time of increasing fragmentation.

The 57.1-km (35.5 mile)-long Gotthard Base Tunnel, 17 years under construction, is part of a 23 billion Swiss franc ($23 billion) infrastructure project to speed passengers and cargo by rail under the mountain chain dividing Europe's north and south.

Typically Swiss, the Gotthard tunnel that federal transport office director Peter Fueglistaler called "a masterpiece of timing, cost and policy" came in on schedule and on budget.

High-speed trains will whisk passengers in 17 minutes through the tunnel, a passage that took days until the first Alpine rail route opened in 1882. Around 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains can traverse the two-tube tunnel daily once final testing ends later this year.

The Swiss threw an opening party that drew the leaders of all its neighboring countries in a show of European solidarity.

Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann said he would gently press German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande to compromise in a standoff over Swiss plans to launch unilateral curbs on EU immigration.

"We will come closer personally and that is decisive," he told reporters, adding talks would resume in earnest after Britain's June 23 vote on whether to quit the EU.

The European leaders hailed the project as an inspiration for all who want to live the dream of people circulating freely.

"I would like to see what binds us and understand how to use it. That is what the Gotthard Tunnel symbolizes," Merkel said.

"Switzerland has not just built a tunnel, but opened a route to the future of Europe," Hollande added, joking amid rail strikes at home that it would be a achievement to see trains traveling at 200 km/hour as they will through the tunnel.

Party opens world's longest train tunnel

CONQUERING THE ALPS

The tunnel along Europe's main rail line connecting the ports of Rotterdam in the north to Genoa in the south snakes through the mountains as much as 2.3 km below the surface and through rock as hot as 46 degrees Celsius (114.8°F).

The old rail route crosses the pass in a series of loops and tunnels. The new flat route means even heavy trains will need only one locomotive rather than two or three.

Engineers had to dig and blast through 73 kinds of rock as hard as granite and as soft as sugar. Nine workers died.

"It is just part of the Swiss identity," Fueglistaler said of the Swiss fondness for major engineering feats. Swiss voters supported the project in several referendums in the 1990s.

The first travelers through the tunnel were 500 lucky winners plus guests who entered a lottery for the trip.

The overall project includes the Loetschberg rail tunnel that has already opened, the Ceneri tunnel still being built and renovations to make rail tunnels at least 4 meters high at the corners to be able to handle big freight containers.

Swiss work is due to end in 2020, but Italy and above all Germany have lagged on infrastructure improvements on the route, something Merkel said on Wednesday she would address. ($1 = 0.9928 Swiss francs)

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