Swiss break through in world's longest tunnel

SEDRUN, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swiss engineers drilling the world’s longest tunnel broke through the last section of rock on Friday, crowning more than a decade of work.

The 57.1-km (35.5-mile) rail tunnel under the Gotthard massif will enter service in 2017, taking some of the tens of thousands of tons of freight that crosses the Alps by road every day.

Shown live on Swiss television, a 10-meter-wide drill ceremonially ground away the last few centimeters of rock.

“Together we risked a lot. Together we achieved a lot, because we know the mountain is large but we are small,” said Swiss Environment and Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger.

The project is costing more than 12 billion Swiss francs ($12.58 billion), and claimed the lives of eight workers.

More than 200 trains traveling at speeds of up to 250 km per hour (150 mph) will be able to pass through the tunnel each day and the amount of freight transported will nearly double to about 40 million tons per year, according to Alp Transit Gotthard, which is building the tunnel.

It will help reduce the travel time between from Zurich and Milan by an hour, to two hours and 40 minutes.

About 13 million cubic meters of rock have been dug out of the mountain, equivalent to five times the volume of Egypt’s Great Pyramid at Giza.

Previously, the longest tunnel was the undersea Seikan rail link between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, at 53.85 km (33.46 miles), followed by the 50.45 km (31.35 mile) rail tunnel linking Britain with France under the Channel.

Additional reporting by Vincent Fribault; writing by Catherine Bosley; editing by Andrew Dobbie