Alptransit - The World's Longest Tunnel


Sending Italian wine to the Netherlands or German washing machines to Greece  often means a long slow journey along narrow alpine valleys, through tunnels and over passes.

More and more goods cross the Alps every year and the number of heavy lorries on alpine transit routes has increased dramatically. Many people have died in road and tunnel accidents and the inhabitants of the Alps feel that their wonderful environment is in danger.

In a national referendum held in 1994 the Swiss people voted to put all freight onto railways. A year later the government started a project called AlpTransit -with the aim of building a faster north-south rail route beneath the Alps.


The entire railway line will stay at the same altitude – about 500 meters above sea level. Trains will be able to reach speeds of up to 250 km an hour and reduce the travel time between Zurich and Milan from four hours to two and a half . That would make the journey even faster than flying.

The construction of two new railway sections is planned:

  • The Gotthard axis will have three new tunnels. The original 15 km long  Gotthard tunnel, which was completed in 1881, will be replaced by the world’s longest tunnel with a length of 57 km.
  • The Lötschberg Axis is being built further in the west and has  a 34 km long base tunnel that will be completed sometime in 2007.


Tunnels in Switzerland


Currently around 2000 people are working on the Gotthard project alone. Besides the two main railway tubes that are being built, construction  workers also have to dig tunnels for people, vehicles, and equipment.

The job  is very difficult . Workers must prevent the tunnel from collapsing because of the high pressure and the different kinds of rock that they encounter. The main boring machine is ten meters in diameter and can dig itself into the mountain at a speed of up to 40 meters a day.

The Swiss hope to complete the project by 2020. The total cost is expected to reach more than 20 billion euros.

Although many alpine inhabitants are happy to see heavy traffic disappearing from their roads some  also fear disadvantages. A local architect explains :” This tunnel makes the Alps disappear. When you drive from Zurich to Milan today you get a beautiful scenery. The tunnel will turn the Alps into a big black hole.

In Sedrun , a tiny alpine village that lies along the tunnel’s route,  a one thousand meter long elevator has  been built to get workers to an underground railway station at the  construction site. The mayor of the village wants to use both in the future and have trains stop at the station and bring tourists up to the surface to enjoy fresh mountain air.

South portal of the Loetschberg base tunnel

South portal of the Loetschberg base tunnel -


Related Topics


  • aim =goal
  • although =while
  • altitude = the height of a place above sea level
  • axis =here: railroad line
  • base tunnel =lowest tunnel part
  • beneath = under
  • billion = one thousand million
  • boring machine = machine used to dig the tunnel
  • collapse = fall down or break down because something is damaged
  • complete = finish
  • construction = the building of an object
  • construction site = place where something is being built
  • currently = now
  • diameter = straight line from one side of a circle to the other
  • dig =to make a hole into the earth
  • disadvantage = bad side of something
  • disappear = to go away
  • elevator = machine that takes you from one level to another in a house or building
  • encounter = come  across
  • entire = whole
  • environment = the world around you
  • equipment = machines and other things you need to do a job
  • expected to reach = here: if you think that it will cost a certain  sum of money
  • fear = to be afraid of
  • freight = goods that are carried by ship, train , airplane or lorry
  • further =more
  • goods = things that are produced so that they can be sold
  • government = group of people who rule or govern a country
  • heavy traffic = a lot of cars and lorries that use a road
  • increase = to go up
  • inhabitants = people who live in a place or area
  • journey =trip
  • length =how long something is
  • mayor = person who leads the town or city
  • narrow = not wide
  • pressure =force , weight
  • prevent = to stop something from happening
  • reach =here: to go as fast as
  • reduce = to make something smaller or less
  • referendum = when people decide about something
  • replace =to take the place of 
  • scenery = landscape , view of a place
  • sea level =the average height of the sea; it is used to measure how high mountains and other places are
  • speed =how fast something is
  • surface =the top level or layer of an object
  • transit = system of moving goods or people  from one place to another
  • tube = hole that is dug for one railway line
  • vehicle = machine that you use to take a person from one place to another , like a car, bus, truck etc.