A giant rock drill has broken through a last section of Alpine rock to open the world’s longest tunnel after 15 years of digging through 13 million cubic metres of rock…
It will house a high-speed rail link due to open in 2017 between Zurich and Milan, a key part of a network joining northern and south-eastern Europe.
The breakthrough, attended by 200 dignitaries 30 kilometres inside the tunnel, was broadcast live on Swiss television and watched by European transport ministers at a meeting in Brussels…
The tunnel will have economic benefits, with about 300 trains travelling through it at up to 250 kilometres per hour, cutting the Zurich-Milan journey by an hour and linking to lines going into Germany.
But it was also the fruit of campaigns by environmentalists, who demanded a cut in trans-Alpine road traffic, winning a referendum in 1994 to stop heavy goods vehicles crossing the mountains.
In recent years, Austria, France and Italy have set in motion two similar rail tunnel projects through the eastern and western Alps. They are both planned to exceed 50 kilometres in length in the 2020s.
The sort of political and technological victory we are decades away from in the United States.
After World War 2, Europeans had to decide on the most best way to rebuild their infrastructure. They chose rail as the most efficient means of commercial transport. Passenger transport expansion was part of an ongoing process; but, the serious decisions about the cost of moving goods had to be based on a long range appreciation of the cost of fuel to move those goods. They looked further ahead than the next election cycle.
Here in the United States, with an automobile lobby and the Oil Patch Boys already in charge of Washington, DC – we went the route of our Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower made the appropriate pitch for Homeland Security which is almost as sacred as “Think of the Children”.
Railroads were dismantled, gasoline and diesel was cheap, all was right with the world. Till we began to reach the end of the working life of that highway infrastructure and fuel costs crept towards equity with the rest of the industrial world.
Poisonally, I think even if Obama wanders into a 2nd term, Democrats will stick to Jello battle armor and fail to fight for significant changes in transport policy. Republicans are wedged securely in the back pockets of Big Oil and hardly likely to start caring about the cost of goods for the American middle class. They never have.
Still, take faint pleasure from knowing what modern design and technology is capable of constructing. Even though we’re not likely to see much of it on our safe and secure continent.