Over 130 years old, the railway winds around the landscape like a giant mythical snake, crossing the Saint-Gotthard Massif, burrowing through tunnels and incorporating the highest railway bridge in Switzerland. The Gotthard railway may have been built by human hands, but it is surrounded by nature.
The Gotthard Tunnel was built between 1871 and 1882 and was the longest railway tunnel in the world at the time.
Its construction was beset by difficulties, with numerous technical and geological problems that had to be overcome. As if that were not enough, the lead engineer and contractor Louis Favre had several disputes with the bank that was financing the project and the canton’s building department. He was contractually obligated to open the tunnel after eight years. If this deadline was not met, he would be liable for all costs after this time. Favre was unfortunately unable to get the project completed on time, leading him and his entire family to become impoverished. Favre actually died in the tunnel a few months before it was completed when he suffered a heart attack during a routine inspection.
Facts and figures about the railway tunnel’s completion: 1882
Lead engineer: Louis Favre
First train: 23 May 1882
Length: 15 kilometres, double lane
After just under nine years of toil, the breakthrough finally occurred on 28 February 1880. The tunnel had a lateral deviation of 33 cm. During the tunnel’s construction, 197 workers died after inhaling toxic fumes released during blasting work involving dynamite.