The sky is still black over the Swiss Alps as we climb aboard a train one morning in late March and head inside the mountains. In an instant, the sharp alpine air thickens to a torpid heat reaching nearly 40°C. The temperature rise is a function of geology, not meteorology—we are deep inside solid rock, in the 57-km-long Gotthard Base Tunnel. More than 1,800 m of mountain is piled above our heads. “This is extremely high-pressure rock and the water pressure is also very high,” says Renzo Simoni, a Swiss civil engineer and CEO of AlpTransit Gotthard AG, the company that is overseeing one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects, as he guides us along a dark tunnel track. “Working in these conditions is very, very hard.”
Indeed—building the Gotthard Base Tunnel has taken decades of backbreaking toil by more than 2,600 people, at a cost of more than $10 billion. But after 23 years of work, the result is spectacular. When it finally opens in June next year, the tunnel will be the longest in the world, longer than the...
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