Travel and Tourism

From Gotthard to Guadarrama – these are the world's longest railway tunnels

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 - RTX2F4E5

Switzerland's newly opened Gotthard Tunnel holds the world record, but which others come close? Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Joe Myers
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The world’s lengthiest railway tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT), will soon be open for business, following its inauguration on 1 June. Seventeen years in construction, and a world-record 57.1km in length, the tunnel should admit its first trains in December 2016.

Its construction is a phenomenal feat of engineering, involving around 2,400 workers and with 28.2 million tonnes of material excavated. At a cost of around 12.5 billion Swiss francs (or $12.6 in US currency), it roughly matched the budget of the London Olympics and used around 4 million cubic metres of concrete (or 84 Empire State Buildings).

Carving its way through the Alps, the tunnel is expected to reduce train journey times significantly and provide a major increase in rail freight capacity.

 The Gotthard Base Tunnel
Image: AFP

“It is just part of the Swiss identity,” federal transport office director Peter Fueglistaler explained to Reuters. “For us, conquering the Alps is like the Dutch exploring the oceans.”

Other terrific tunnels

The completion of the GBT sees it overtake Japan’s Seikan Tunnel as the world’s longest underground railway passage. This in turn pushes the Channel Tunnel into third place.

The graphic below, from Swiss Info, ranks the longest rail tunnels in the world, placing them in order, with the newly crowned GBT at the top.

 The longest railway tunnels in the world
Image: Swiss Info

Seikan, Japan

Seikan, in second place, is the oldest tunnel featured in the graphic, completed nearly three decades ago. Of its 54km total length, some 23km is under the sea. The tunnel connects Honshu and Hokkaido Islands in the north of Japan.

The Channel Tunnel, Europe

Linking France and the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand opened the tunnel in 1994. At a final cost of £9 billion, more than 13,000 French and British workers collaborated to make the tunnel a reality.

 The Channel Tunnel
Image: BBC

Yulhyeon, South Korea

The Yulhyeon Tunnel took just three and a half years to complete and is part of the Suseo High Speed Railway. The line connects Suseo Station in Seoul and Pyeongtaek 61.1km to the south. Opened in the summer of 2015, the tunnel takes fourth place on the list.

 Yulhyeon Tunnel

Lötschberg Base Tunnel, Switzerland

Another Swiss tunnel takes fifth place. One-third of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), alongside the GBT and the Ceneri Base Tunnel (due to open in 2020), the Lötschberg Base Tunnel opened in 2007.

New Guanjiao, China

A land-based tunnel through the Guanjiao mountains, it connects Xining and Golmud. It's 32.6km long and was opened in 2014.

Guadarrama, Spain

At 28.4km long, the Guadarrama rail tunnel is part of the Madrid-Valladolid line opened in 2007. Trains can travel through it at over 310km per hour, significantly reducing travel times.

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