World's longest rail tunnel opens in Switzerland today

Easier movement of goods and increased tourism named as economic benefits...

World's longest rail tunnel opens in Switzerland today

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Seventeen years after the first blast went off in its main shaft, the world's longest railway tunnel officially opens today.

Switzerland's NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel - which is also the deepest around - runs for 57 kilometres and is set to provide a high-speed rail link between northern and southern Europe directly underneath the Swiss Alps.

It overtakes Japan's 53.9km Seikan rail tunnel as the longest in the world. The Channel Tunnel runs for 50.5km and now moves into third place.

Swiss officials say that the tunnel will revolutionise freight transport on the continent, and will both allow the easier movement of goods and be a boon to tourism. Roughly 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will travel through the tunnel every day.

The project, which cost €10.7bn, was given the go-ahead by Swiss voters in a 1992 referendum. Two years later, they backed an environmental proposal to move all freight travelling throguh Switzerland from road to rail. That could now become a reality.

The completed tunnel, moving 2.3km beneath the surface of the Alps, will be a mainline rail connection between Rotterdam and Genoa. Journey time for travellers between Zurich and Milan, meanwhile, will be reduced by an hour.

Financed by VAT, fuel taxes, road charges on heavy vehicles and state loans that are due to be repaid within a decade, the tunnel was delivered on time and within its budget.

Speaking to Reuters, Swiss transport office director Peter Fueglistaler said:

"For us, conquering the Alps is like the Dutch exploring the oceans".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will be attendance at today's opening ceremony near the town of Erstfeld. Full services begin in December.