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Swiss Inaugurate $12 Billion Rail Tunnel, World's Longest

Swiss Federal President Johann Schneider-Ammann, right, speaks with French President Francois Hollande, left, on the opening day of the Gotthard rail tunnel, the longest tunnel in the world, at the fairground Rynaecht at the northern portal in Erstfeld, S

Switzerland has inaugurated the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world's longest and deepest rail tunnel, running more than 57 kilometers beneath the Alps.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi joined Swiss leaders in a celebration featuring musical bands, dancers and even a theme song for the GBT tunnel project, which began 17 years ago.

When it becomes fully operational in December, the tunnel will “bring together peoples and national economies,” Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann said.

"It is an important step for Switzerland, and also for our neighbors and the rest of the continent," Schneider-Ammann said. "People and goods can now move faster, and there will be better links among cities like Stuttgart, Zurich, Lugano and Milano are linked much better."

The Swiss leader said the new Gotthard tunnel is "the construction of the century, building on the pioneering achievement of our ancestors."

Other Swiss officials hailed the project as "a masterpiece" of timing and cost control; it was completed on time and within its budget of more than $12 billion. Engineers who worked on the GBT said new and innovative construction methods were developed to cope with huge rock pressures and heat deep underground, as well as new sealing systems and special concrete mixes.

The twin-tube GBT, 2,300 meters underground at its deepest point, runs between the German-speaking town of Erstfeld in central Switzerland and Italian-speaking Bodio in the south. It is the second part of a long-range plan to upgrade alpine railway links approved in 1992, and a third tunnel is due to open by 2020.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP