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Tunnel Vision

Yisrael Rutman

If your train can’t go over or around a mountain, it needs to go through it. The long and short of tunnels

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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Photo: Shutterstock

W hat do you do when you want a railroad to go from one place to another, but there’s a mountain in the way? The train can’t go over the mountain. It can’t go around it. Sometimes, there’s no choice but to go through the mountain!

Recently, the longest railroad tunnel in the world opened, in Switzerland. Called the Gotthard Tunnel, (for the name of the mountain it goes through), the tunnel runs over 35 miles right through the middle of the Swiss Alps.

In honor of this great engineering achievement, Jr. takes a deeper look at tunnels: tunnels for travel, for war, for escape, and more…

The Biggest Tunnel in the World

As you can imagine, the biggest tunnel has big numbers to go with it: It cost $10 billion and took 17 years to build, construction crews working around the clock in three shifts. An international project, it employed thousands of workers, most of them not Swiss but Italians, Germans, Austrians, Portuguese, and others.


The tunnel is also the greenest ever, a monument to environmental friendliness. One of the main reasons for building it was to reduce the heavy auto traffic that was polluting the beautiful, clean air of the Alps. The Gotthard Tunnel is expected to carry 325 passenger and freight trains a day, at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. That means, for example, that the Zurich-Milan route, which took over four hours, will now take just two-and-a half hours. Sound inviting, no?

Deepest Tunnel

When we talk about a railroad going through a mountain, it sounds impressive, but how do they do it? Well, the simple answer to the question is that they do it the same way you’re probably imagining it — by digging.

Of course, this isn’t exactly like the digging you do on the beach. It takes huge machines to bore a hole through a mountain large enough for a train tunnel to go through. And equally huge trucks to carry away all the rock and dirt that’s getting dug out.

The Gotthard broke all digging records. It’s the world’s deepest train tunnel, reaching as far as 7,500 feet under the mountain’s surface. That meant digging out 31 million tons of rock — enough to build five Egyptian pyramids!

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