Last edited 19 Jun 2017

From Gotthard to Guadarrama – these are the world’s longest railway tunnels


The world’s lengthiest railway tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT), will soon be open for business, following its inauguration on 1 June. Seventeen years in construction, and a world-record 57.1km in length, the tunnel should admit its first trains in December 2016.

Its construction is a phenomenal feat of engineering, involving around 2,400 workers and with 28.2 million tonnes of material excavated. At a cost of around 12.5 billion Swiss francs (or $12.6 in US currency), it roughly matched the budget of the London Olympics and used around 4 million cubic metres of concrete (or 84 Empire State Buildings).

Carving its way through the Alps, the tunnel is expected to reduce train journey times significantly and provide a major increase in rail freight capacity.


Image: AFP

“It is just part of the Swiss identity,” federal transport office director Peter Fueglistaler explained to Reuters. “For us, conquering the Alps is like the Dutch exploring the oceans.”

Other terrific tunnels

The completion of the GBT sees it overtake Japan’s Seikan Tunnel as the world’s longest underground railway passage. This in turn pushes the Channel Tunnel into third place.

The graphic below, from Swiss Info, ranks the longest rail tunnels in the world, placing them in order, with the newly crowned GBT at the top.


Image: Swiss Info

Seikan, Japan

Seikan, in second place, is the oldest tunnel featured in the graphic, completed nearly three decades ago. Of its 54km total length, some 23km is under the sea. The tunnel connects Honshu and Hokkaido Islands in the north of Japan.

The Channel Tunnel, Europe

Linking France and the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand opened the tunnel in 1994. At a final cost of £9 billion, more than 13,000 French and British workers collaborated to make the tunnel a reality.


Image: BBC

Yulhyeon, South Korea

The Yulhyeon Tunnel took just three and a half years to complete and is part of the Suseo High Speed Railway. The line connects Suseo Station in Seoul and Pyeongtaek 61.1km to the south. Opened in the summer of 2015, the tunnel takes fourth place on the list.



Lötschberg Base Tunnel, Switzerland

Another Swiss tunnel takes fifth place. One-third of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), alongside the GBT and the Ceneri Base Tunnel (due to open in 2020), the Lötschberg Base Tunnel opened in 2007.

New Guanjiao, China

A land-based tunnel through the Guanjiao mountains, it connects Xining and Golmud. It’s 32.6km long and was opened in 2014.

Guadarrama, Spain

At 28.4km long, the Guadarrama rail tunnel is part of the Madrid-Valladolid line opened in 2007. Trains can travel through it at over 310km per hour, significantly reducing travel times.

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  • Written by
Joe Myers, Formative Content, World Economic Forum

This article was also published on the Future of Construction Knowledge Sharing Platform and the WEF Agenda Blog.

--Future of Construction 10:56, 19 Jun 2017 (BST)