Switzerland celebrates the Gotthard tunnel

1st June 2016, Comments 0 comments

The Gotthard rail tunnel through the Alps, 24 years in the making, has opened today to great fanfare from across Europe as it further connects the continent. Two separate celebrations are being held at each end of the tunnel, with visiting heads of state and dignitaries in attendance.

swissinfo.ch will have the latest from each event throughout the day.

The tunnel was opened by Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann. Speaking from the north portal inRynächt, canton Uri, the visibly proud minister said:"Today is an historic day for our country: We have completed the Gotthard Base Tunnel, an epic feat of engineering, a project that has involved generations, from the first sketches, to the planning and construction of the tunnel. I feel extremely proud, but also quite humble."

Transport Minister Doris Leuthard, from the south portal atPollegioin the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, added that the tunnel was "also a symbol of openness and progress", that linked different languages, cultures, and peoples. It also strengthened cohesionin Switzerland and Europe and boosted the economy, she said.

At 12:18 pm the first two trains from each portal started their journey through the tunnel.

At 12:50 pm the trains arrived through the tunnel with a volley of whistles and to much applause and cheers from onlookers.

There are around 500 people on board. They won a competition to gain their seats.

Here is a first impression of whatit's like inside.

Major celebrations took the form of a group of 600 actors performing atheatre spectacleabout the Gotthard myth and the new tunnel.

The event has attracted a lot of international interest. Germany’s Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Italy’s Matteo Renzi and the new Austrian chancellor Christian Kern are in attendance.

In what has been seen as many as a surprise move, top European Union officials such as Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, as well as the heads of the commission and parliament, have stayed away. The EU is now represented by EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

And the world is watching - journalists from as far away as China, Kuwait, Turkey and Japan are in attendance for the day's events, among a press pool of around 300 total. About one-third of them come from abroad.

Europe’s more efficient rerouting of freight through the new Gotthard tunnel – the main reason for its construction – won’t happen overnight. Italy plans to have its three major access routes to the tunnel ready by 2020, but in Germany, the necessary network expansion could take up to 20 years.

This morning, ahead of the celebration show, our correspondent captured a dancer rehearsing on the stage at the southern tunnel entrance.

Alphorns, army musicians and local choirs will also perform during the celebrations. A group of 57 alphorn players gathered near Pollegio for a rehearsal this morning.

The Gotthard event kicked off at 8:30 am with an official blessing of the tunnel. But that ceremony was not without controversy: originally, an inter-faith group of religious leaders was set to take part including an Imam, a Rabbi, a non-denominational representative and a Catholic priest representing the Christian faith. But after former cabinet member Adolf Ogi spoke out about the fact that no Protestant representative was to take part, divisions emerged among Switzerland's Christian community. In the end, a Catholic priest, a pastor, a Rabbi and an Imam were present for this morning's ceremony.

We’ll have more as it happens. In the meantime, some essential facts about the tunnel and why it’s captivated the whole of Europe:

And more about just how much time, money and manpower went into the project:

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