Gotthard Tunnel – A Record Breaking Engineering Marvel Under the Swiss Alps

After 17 years of construction the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel finally opened in 2016 in Switzerland.

Event Details


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Gotthard Tunnel

After 17 years of construction (averaging ten meters of progress per day), 28.2 million tons of rock removal (approximately five times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza), and the employment of more than 2,700 workers drawn from 15 nations — the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel finally opened last year in Switzerland.

The tunnel stretches 35 miles (57km), stretching from central to southern Switzerland, at a depth of 7,500 feet (2300m) at its deepest point. The tunnel connects northern and southern Europe, with the potential to significantly reduce road traffic by moving truck traffic across the Alps. It has been hailed a “marvel of engineering – and efficiency” (Boston Globe, 6/6/16) and is listed among Europe’s grandest feats of engineering ( 5/25/16).

On January 26, MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor (and ETH Zurich Alumnus) Herbert Einstein, who was involved in the design of the new tunnel as well as in preceding projects, will deliver a lecture on the feats of engineering that made this project possible. In his talk, Professor Einstein will discuss the history of the Gotthard and earlier tunnel projects. He will then describe the challenges of digging at great depth, including the overburden (pressure from the rock and water above), the higher temperatures that occur so deep under Earth’s surface, crossing through different rock strata, and protecting the environment.



Event Details

6:00pm Doors Open
6:30pm Welcome and Introduction
6:40pm Professor Herbert Einstein’s Lecture and Q&A
7:40pm Networking Reception
9:00pm Doors Close

Speaker Bio


Herbert H. Einstein, Professor Civil and Environmental Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received his Dipl. Ing. and Sc. D. in Civil Engineering from ETH-Zürich. His teaching and research areas are underground construction, rock mechanics and engineering geology. Professor Einstein has been involved as an advisor, consultant and researcher in issues related to underground construction, rock mechanics and rock engineering and natural disasters, notably landslides, and in waste repository problems. These activities range from geotechnical and engineering geologic research and design, to risk analysis. He is co-editor of the journal, Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering and member of the editorial Boards of Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology; and of Engineering Geology. Professor Einstein is author or co-author of over 250 publications in his area of expertise. He was the recipient of the prestigious Müller lecture award of the International Society for Rock Mechanics and of the “Outstanding Contribution to Rock Mechanics” Award of the American Rock Mechanics Association; he also received several teaching awards at MIT.


The Gotthard mountain chain has been the classic transit route over the Swiss Alps since the 12th century. Until the first Gotthard Train Tunnel was constructed in 1882 – co-financed by the German Reich and Italy, since the route supported their political interests –  the terrain had long been considered impassable. And yet, for decades, thousands of people took this very treacherous trade and travel route, overcoming enormous challenges to get from North to South, and vice versa. Thus, over the course of many years, the Gotthard became the place of countless myths and stories.

Facts and Figures

57.1km The longest and deepest rail tunnel in the world
2,300 Meters Below ground
1999-2016 17 years between the first dynamite blast and the official opening of the tunnel
2700 Over 2,700 workers dug the two shafts
50 °C Temperature reached inside the tunnel whole drilling through the rock
410m Length of the tunnel boring machine
28,2 Million tonnes Of material excavated
4,000,000m3 Amount of concrete used
377,000 tonnes Maximum freight amount per day
3,200km Copper cable


Event Photos