The Daily Telegraph - Travel

Light at the end of a very long tunnel

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The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerlan­d is an awe-inspiring feat of rail engineerin­g. Anthony Lambert joins a pre-opening tour

We approached the innocuous door in the side of a mountain with little idea what was on the other side of the roller shutter. We journalist­s on board were lucky: we were about to get a sneak preview of the world’s longest railway tunnel before the first trains begin using it after its formal opening next Wednesday. Switzerlan­d’s Gotthard Base Tunnel, between Erstfeld and Bodio, is a modern Moria of tubes and caverns through the massif, and even getting to the main bore took us along kilometres of tunnel to a crossroads watched over by an effigy of St Barbara, patron saint of tunnellers.

Walking along a tunnel tall enough for a double-decker bus, the air The tunnel in numbers almost hot, we entered a bay window let into a side wall and gazed along the string of lights that stretch for 57km. The Swiss recognise the appeal of such record-breaking projects, so for the next few months are inviting visitors into the tunnel before it opens fully to traffic on December 11. Gottardino shuttle trains will run between Flüelen and Biasca, making a stop deep inside the mountain at the control station of Sedrun. The tour will vividly demonstrat­e the complexity of the gigantic system and the way it will be operated once 260 freight and 65 passenger trains a day run through it. A visitor centre at Amsteg will add films and models of the project.

The mountains that make Switzerlan­d one of the world’s most beautiful countries have also led them to become consummate tunnellers – the GBT, as it is called, is on budget

Panoramic train route

The higher-level Gotthard Tunnel can be reached by train via horseshoe loops and spiral tunnels within the mountain. Opened in 1882, the railway is so spectacula­r that it will continue to be the route of the William Tell Express between Lucerne and Lugano/Locarno (next year it will be known as the Gotthard Panorama Express). This tourist service combines a stately paddlestea­mer between Lucerne and Flüelen where passengers board panoramic coaches for the journey into Switzerlan­d’s Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Horse-drawn landau

Once the snows have cleared from the road over the Gotthard Pass, it is possible to capture the experience depicted in Koller’s painting. Between June 24 and September 4, a luxurious eight-seat coupé landau drawn by five horses crosses the pass between Andermatt and Airolo daily, stopping for a four-course lunch at the historic hospice, now an inn and museum, at the pass summit. Bearing the PostBus yellow and red livery, it traverses Switzerlan­d’s longest architectu­ral monument, the Tremola – a cobbleston­e section of the pass road.

On the road

A modern PostBus service over the pass operates between June 25 and October 16 as part of the Ticino Route Express between Andermatt and Oberwald. Drivers take hairpin bends, sounding distinctiv­e threetone horn warnings to other road users that they need the full width of the road and have right of way. It requires full concentrat­ion up and down its serpentine bends.

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