Less than a year till world's longest train tunnel opens through Swiss Alps

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Switzerland's transport minister Doris Leuthard starts a countdown in Milan on June 8, 2015 for the Gotthard Base Tunnel which will in 2016 become the world's longest and deepest train tunnel, running through the Swiss Alps.

Some of Switzerland's iconic brands are watches, chocolate, ski slopes, trains - and also tunnels.

There is less than a year until the world's longest and deepest, train tunnel opens, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, through the Swiss Alps linking Italy to Switzerland and a populous European hinterland.

In a speech marking the one year countdown, Swiss Transport Minister Doris Leuthard said the new tunnel will benefit current and future generations.

She emphasized the GBT, as it is known, will be of great importance for mountain-wrapped Switzerland, Italy's industrial north, and also for Europe linking industrial and agricultural areas.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Counter in Milan on June 8, 2015 for the official opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel linking Switzerland and Italy and that will be the world's longest train tunnel.

"It's better to invest billions in railroads than in roads, particularly for the future of the planet. It will help key logistics in Europe too, "said Leuthard speaking in Milan during the World Expo on June 8.                                  

In June Leuthard started a counter on the GBT exhibit showing the time until the opening officially opened on June, 1 2016.

On that day, the 57 kilometer-long (35 mile) tunnel will supersede from the Seikan tunnel (53.85 km - 33.46 mile) in Japan as the world's longest rail tunnel.

Including all cross-passages, access tunnels and shafts, the total length of the tunnel system is more than 152 kilometers (90 miles).

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Engineers say the tunnel, with its two separate tubes linking Germany and Italy will allow for quicker and more reliable transport of cargo, faster passenger service and 50 percent greater rail capacity.

The tunnel has a rock overburden of up to 2,300 metres.

Besides the engineering feat of the tunnel itself, many other structures accompany it such as underpasses and bridges for the approaches to the tunnel.

The over ground section in the Reuss valley in the Swiss canton of Uri crosses inhabited areas, roads, rivers and agricultural land.

Protective measures against noise, dust, and floods, and for nature conservation, are therefore equally important challenges as the technical implementation of the new railway line.

BIGGEST SWISS CONSTRUCTION SITE

It is one of the biggest-ever construction sites in Switzerland.

As well as opening Switzerland to other European countries the tunnel is seen as a boost to tourism in in the Valais region, the main wine-producing area in the Alpine country.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Stéphane and Isabella Kellenberger, two Swiss wine-makers present their red and white wines in the Swiss town of Brig on the Italian border on June 7, 2015.

Stéphane and Isabella Kellenberger are a couple form Switzerland's Valais region who represent a new breed of winemakers.

They hope the tunnel will help the traffic of tourists who can better experience Switzerland's growing variety and quality of wine.

Some of the young couple's wines were selected for the Swiss Pavilion at World Expo 2015 in Milan and their own life experiences show the international nature of modern wine-making.

They both studied at the wine school at Changins, in Nyon near Geneva.    

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Isabella Kellenberger's mother is from Singapore and her father is Swiss. She did internships in New Zealand, Chile and California and in Switzerland she worked in sales and marketing.

Stéphane did a stint in South Africa, and "this allowed me to become familiar with cellaring practices there."

With its long experience in production, he has extensive knowledge of modern cellaring techniques he is able to practice in a targeted manner.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)The Swiss tourist and agricultural town of Brig near Swiss Alps and the Italian border on June 7, 2015.

After graduation, he worked as cellar master from Vennerhus in Grosshöchstetten, and from 2012 he worked for the Cave of Bernunes in Sierre in the Valais, before starting his own cave.                                                             

After her oenology studies Isabella completed internships in New Zealand, Chile and California. Back in Switzerland, she worked in various companies engaged primarily in sales and marketing.  

She enthuses that Loèche (Leuk) where they have their vineyard "is a beautiful little town that still has several Middle Age buildings.

"It is a lovely experience to take a peaceful walk through the village and quietly finish the visit by enjoying a glass of wine."

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