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Digging behind the scenes of the Gotthard tunnel

The cover photo for the new Gotthard book (Schobinger)

A book on the construction of the new AlpTransit Gotthard rail tunnel is looking to raise awareness among the Swiss about the importance of the project.

The massive scheme is costing SFr10 billion ($6.85 billion) to build, and it will be the longest rail tunnel in the world on completion.

Written by Nicolas Steinmann, one of the engineers working on the tunnel, "Gotthard via subalpina" mixes key statistics with a closer look at the people behind scenes.

The idea for the book came from a photo-reportage on the tunnel by photographer Maurice Schobinger, who provides all the photographs in the book.

Steinmann says he wants the book to stir up interest in the tunnel among the French-speaking Swiss, who, he believes, currently take little notice of it.

"The idea [for the book] came from the fact that the French-speaking Swiss are not interested in the tunnel. And I wanted the project to be recorded in French literature," he told swissinfo.

The text draws on Schobinger's photographs, which show the miners and engineers at work on the construction site, alongside images focusing on the details of the construction.

Tunnel statistics

The book contains a stack of figures on the tunnel and its construction, giving the reader a sense of the scale of the project and the challenges facing the engineers.

They are cutting through 20 metres of rock per day, for example, and will eventually remove a pile of rock five times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

There will be two galleries in the tunnel, both 57 kilometres long, with some 175 "communication links" branching off at various stages.

A rail journey from Zurich to Milan, via the new tunnel will take 2 hours 40 minutes - considerably faster than the current quickest route, which takes 4 hours 20 minutes.

Behind the scenes are 1,800 permanent workers, mostly unseen and barely considered by a public which will soon to benefit from their labour.

Relieving the congestion

The main purpose of the new Gotthard tunnel is to relieve the vehicle congestion in the road tunnel. Heavy traffic and the subsequent delays along this crucial north-south axis have long been an issue for the Swiss government.

The issue became more urgent following the Gotthard tunnel fire in October 2001, in which 11 people died when two lorries collided.

It is hoped that the new rail link will encourage more freight to be transported by train rather than lorries.

The current Gotthard transalpine system, consisting of one rail and one road tunnel, provides the main north-south link through the Swiss Alps.

The AlpTransit Gotthard route, which runs from Erstfeld to Bodio, is scheduled for completion in 2014.

swissinfo, Bernard Léchot (translated by Joanne Shields)

Key facts

The book aims to generate interest in the tunnel among the Swiss.
It was written by one of the engineers on the project, Nicolas Steinmann.
The new AlpTransit Gotthard rail tunnel will be 57 kilometres long, making it the longest in the world.

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