Gotthardt rail tunnel breakthrough
October 15, 2010 3:28 AM   Subscribe

Gotthardt rail tunnel breakthrough in pictures (click photo for popup gallery). The 35 mile/ 57 km long tunnel through the Alps is the longest in the world. The breakthrough is130 years after it's predecessor was finished in 1880. It took 15 years to build and cost 10 billion dollar, largely because of extra security requirements. The breakthrough in the middle happened today. Description in English.
posted by joost de vries (39 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry for the Dutch language link. That's the best photo gallery I could find at this point in time.
posted by joost de vries at 3:29 AM on October 15, 2010

Why was I surprised that the walls of the tunnel weren't made of dirt? What am I, five years old? :-)
posted by facetious at 3:36 AM on October 15, 2010

Interesting post. Shame there is another 7 years to wait until we can try it out! Dank u wel joost.
posted by numberstation at 3:37 AM on October 15, 2010

Thou dost not need to mention it numberstation.

A bit of context for non-Europeans: the Gotthardt in the Alps is a famous hurdle to take for North-west Europeans going on holiday to Italy and further.
Also the Gotthard is historically the archetypal tunnel.

In my mind these kind of huge infrastructural undertakings are the pyramids of our time.
They need sustained vision and commitment where politics are often fickle. And a society needs to be sufficiently organised to pull this off. I don't see anything like this happening in let's say Somalia.

Massive contemporary infrastructure makes me impressed with what human kind, what we, can do.
posted by joost de vries at 4:01 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my mind these kind of huge infrastructural undertakings are the pyramids of our time.

And a helluwa lot more useful than the pyramids ever were...
posted by Harald74 at 4:13 AM on October 15, 2010

posted by joost de vries at 4:35 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great links all around. Nice post, joost de vries.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 AM on October 15, 2010

Having built massive tunnels in Minecraft, I can totally relate to the vastness of this undertaking.

This is awesome. Thanks.
posted by _Lasar at 4:37 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great post. I'll make a point of taking my holidays in Switzerland in 2017 so I can experience it first hand.
posted by idiomatika at 4:50 AM on October 15, 2010

This is very cool, but ever since that massive tunnel fire in 2001, the joy of driving through all tunnels is a little less for me. I know it's irrational, but I'm always thinking of escape plans, knowing that they'd probably be hugely implausible if the worst were actually to occur.

Still, this is an amazing and impressive accomplishment and the Swiss should be proud. Achievement unlocked!
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:51 AM on October 15, 2010

So why will it take another 6 years minimum to complete the project? Everyone thinks building a tunnel = digging, but there's obviously more to be done. What work remains?
posted by fremen at 5:18 AM on October 15, 2010

Laying permanent way and installing signal systems. And testing, lots and lots of testing.
posted by brokkr at 5:25 AM on October 15, 2010

Drilling the hole is really just half of the engineering miracle. Preventing it from becoming a death trap is the other half. Kinda like a house, once the frame is built you've gotta put in the electrical, heating/cooling, plumbing, etc. Except unlike a house a tunnel like this has to move a lot of air around the clock because if it stops, CO2 and whatever is outgasing from the area (like methane, etc.) would build up and kill people inside. Like wise if there is a fire it needs to move all that smoke out so it doesn't suffocate people. So all that equipment to move air has to be fully redundant, along with everything it's dependent on like the electrical stuff.

Then you've got your earthquakes and floods to worry about, so there's equipment to move lots of water and I don't know what to deal with movement of the earth. And after all that we can finally start thinking about what it'll take to deal with the little humans inside. Service ducts, emergency facilities for breakdowns, medical issues, etc. It's a complicated enterprise.
posted by jwells at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pictures, Maps, History, Etc
posted by blue_beetle at 5:38 AM on October 15, 2010

largely because of extra security requirements

Can anyone elaborate on that? Were there people really trying to blow up a tunnel? Or steal the digging equipment?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:53 AM on October 15, 2010

"Nice work, Dr. Flammond!"
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:22 AM on October 15, 2010

I don't understand why they're using redstone torches.

They'll eventually be wired into a signaling system, obviously. The real reason it will take another 6-7 years to finish is that the redstone signaling system circuitry will occupy a side tunnel twice the size of the original.

More seriously, apparently 8 workers have died working on this thing. That's kind of shocking. I would have assumed modern construction, even on this massive scale, would be safer than that.
posted by jedicus at 6:30 AM on October 15, 2010

Joost you sound like an Extreme Engineering type guy to me.

For other tunnel / engineering aficionados let me suggest the following episodes which may or may not be available to download somewhere out here in cyber space:

S01E03 - Transatlantic Tunnel - proposal on a tunnel under the atlantic
S01E06 - Tunnelling Under the Alps - about Gotthard!
S03E05 - Gotthard again!
S04E02 - SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur
S06E13 - Marmaray Tunnel in Istanbul
S07E06 - Limon Dam and deepest tunnel
S08E08 - Gotthard Tunnel

So for Gotthard action check out S01E06, S03E05 and S08E08
posted by numberstation at 6:34 AM on October 15, 2010

MetaFilter: Sorry for the Dutch language

Awesome stuff. I'm currently reading The Great Railway Bazaar, so I'm really into this stuff right now. Makes me think of his descriptions of going through the tunnels in a train with no lights; being plunged into total darkness which is then shattered by the harsh Iranian sun.

Though as a NYC subway commuter, my first thought was of course: Hell of a place to breakdown.
posted by Eideteker at 6:51 AM on October 15, 2010

Photos with English captions at the Guardian. (These might be the same pictures as in the main link or in joost's Spiegel links, I haven't been able to get those to load yet).
posted by logopetria at 6:58 AM on October 15, 2010

That is awesome.
I saw that Tunneling Under the Alps episode numberstation mentions and it certainly made the enormity of the job easy to recognize.
Bravo, humans.
posted by heatvision at 6:58 AM on October 15, 2010

$10B USD is dirt-cheap for a 35-mile tunnel containing high-speed train tracks.

For some cost comparisons:
The New Jersey -> New York trans-Hudson tunnell was projected to cost $8-$10Billion, and would have only been 3.5 miles long. It has tentatively been cancelled whilst under construction.

New York City's 8.5-mile Second Avenue Subway is expected to cost $17Billion by the time it's completed. After nearly 80 years of planning and false starts, the first quarter (and arguably least important portion) of the project is funded, and is under construction. It will be open in 2016.

The Silver Line of the Washington Metro will be constructed almost entirely aboveground, and will cost $5.5Billion, although realistic cost estimates are much higher. At least the first half of this project is funded, and is under construction.

London Crossrail (15mi) will cost 15.9Billion GBP ($25.5B USD!). It is funded and under construction, although may be pushed back a year to allow for cost savings.

None of these projects are designed for high-speed operation.

Granted, many of these projects go through populated areas, which (obviously) drives up their costs considerably.
posted by schmod at 7:04 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Logopetria those weren't up yet. So they are really from this afternoon! You actually can see the drill breaking through! Thanks for the addition.

largely because of extra security requirements

Can anyone elaborate on that?

I seem to recall that there was a big fire in the road Gotthard tunnel while construction of this rail tunnel was underway. (*quick look on wikipedia*) Apparently that was in 2001 and they learned a lot about how fires in such a confined space can be much more dangerous than in the open. I imagine that a lot of the extra cost involved measures against something similar happening.
I'm not aware of special anti-terrorism measures. But I agree that you'd expect those to have been taken after 9/11 as well.

There were also run ups of the cost because of unexpected bad consistency of rock.

That series sounds awesome numberstation.

schmod, is one of those big projects the one that is also referred to as 'the big dig'?

Btw we had nice problem with a comparatively small metro tunnel that was being dug in Amsterdam. One of the challenges there is not so much the rock and how to drill through it. There's no rock in the ground there. The complication that they ran into is that buildings in the old center of Amsterdam are built on foundations that are made out of wooden pillars. These pillars are centuries old and are submerged since the water levels are in the Netherlands often between 0.5 meter and 3 meters below the ground.
Their digging of the tunnel made the buildings on some ancient canals start to slip away with the risk of collapse.
What a fuck up.
posted by joost de vries at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sad that nobody seems to have gotten my little unicode joke. I thought metafilter was just the right audience for that.
Maybe one has to be German/Swiss to understand that one.

posted by joost de vries at 8:07 AM on October 15, 2010

I like how, when presented with the image of the drill face (photo 2) that joost de vries referenced earlier, my first thought was, "Pffft. That looks so fake. If they were going to build a prop, it should look less "Stargate" and more "industrial engineering"" It took a full second or two before my brain caught up to the whole not-fake-it's-real-you-idiot thing.
posted by quin at 8:33 AM on October 15, 2010

Yup....amazing! It's sad the Swiss can build a 10bill tunnel to cut a hour off a route and we can't spend that much to drastically reduce congestion in our nation's largest city.....I guess that's the difference when your goverenment is not subsidizing pharmaceutical development and fighting far off wars. At least we got Karzai!
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:36 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not aware of special anti-terrorism measures. But I agree that you'd expect those to have been taken after 9/11 as well.

Well obviously you don't want to have people fly airliners into the tunnel...
posted by DreamerFi at 8:38 AM on October 15, 2010

Well sure. Until they opened up the other side it wouldn't be possible to properly barnstorm it.

Now however...
posted by quin at 8:53 AM on October 15, 2010

Now now, scepticallypleased, don't be so down on the infrastructural prowess of the US. The US shows a lot of sustained vision and execution in the realisation of military based around the world f.i.
posted by joost de vries at 9:23 AM on October 15, 2010

based -> bases
posted by joost de vries at 9:48 AM on October 15, 2010

I'm dazzled by the photos.

It depresses me that the U.S. seems currently incapable of planning, launching, and sustaining a national infrastructure project of this scope.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2010

Der Schlägel und Eisen (hammer and pick) can be found in the heraldic shields of german towns that have a history of mining. Also that sign was used on maps to show where things like gold or coal where found. I seem to recall that it was also used in German calendars to indicate a workday. So that's why they had to use unicode with its U+2692 hammer and pick character ⚒ to mark the spot where to start drilling: Glück auf!.

Also it's a cryptic sign that the European care for infrastructure is communist.
I've forwarded this information to Kent Beck.
posted by joost de vries at 11:01 AM on October 15, 2010

schmod, is one of those big projects the one that is also referred to as 'the big dig'?

No. The Big Dig was a road tunnel in Boston. Plans for a rail tunnel through Boston were originally of the project, but were cut out along the way.

Estimating the cost of the big dig compared to the number of miles is confounded by the fact that it was actually a series of separate tunnels and bridges, and was plagued by corruption, delays, and shoddy construction. The project cost approximately twice what it was originally estimated to ($15 billion), and is commonly cited as a textbook case of how not to manage a large project, and also by "concern trolls" as a reason for not building any infrastructure projects.

The tunnel would have closed a gap in the Northeast Corridor that exists at Boston. If you want to travel through (rather than to) Boston via train, you need to walk across town and transfer to a different train. This is actually fairly common in major cities -- off of the top of my head, NYC, London, Paris and Glasgow are all major rail hubs, but have separate and usually discontinuous train terminals within them. Ever since the railroads were nationalized, projects have been undertaken to bridge these gaps, albeit at tremendous expense. London's Crossrail project is one example of this. The fact that most of the major population centers on the US East Coast can be connected by drawing a single, fairly straight line on a map makes this project an enticing priority.)
posted by schmod at 11:48 AM on October 15, 2010

Great post. I'll make a point of taking my holidays in Switzerland in 2017 so I can experience it first hand.

I suggest taking a holiday in Switzerland before then and doing the same route sans tunnel. I once did this, when a 90-minute Eurostar delay caused me to miss a Paris-Florence sleeper train, and the only option was a Paris-Zürich sleeper (now cancelled because the route has become much faster due to the new TGV line) and the Zürich-Milan daytime train, which is the route the tunnel will take over. Yes, it was a lot slower, but it was a spectacular journey; over a beautiful summer morning, the train corkscrewed its way up mountains, passing silvery lakes with little white chalets and going over series of viaducts and short tunnels, then one longish (though nowhere near as long as the new one) tunnel, before emerging in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, a place with a completely different climate and architecture.

As intellectually impressive as the tunnel is, I imagine that, aesthetically speaking, it'll be somewhat underwhelming. Much like the Channel Tunnel: descend into a concrete groove in a train yard in Kent, 20 minutes of motion through the dark, which could be anywhere, and then you're in France (and the first thing you see is a barn-like building labelled "BEER & WINE"). That's impressive enough, but the actual experience is a bit of a non-event.
posted by acb at 3:08 PM on October 15, 2010

So has this been recreated in Minecraft yet?
posted by Eideteker at 10:09 PM on October 15, 2010

Wow, schmod, every country has it's big overrun projects. But the Big Dig truly stands out.
posted by joost de vries at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2010

I'm not seeing any pictures of the breakthrough. Am I dumb?
posted by rhizome at 1:41 PM on October 18, 2010

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