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How does Swiss mega tunnel stack up against Big Dig?

The scale of the 17-year construction project that built the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland (bottom) brings to mind Boston’s Big Dig (top).
The scale of the 17-year construction project that built the 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland (bottom) brings to mind Boston’s Big Dig (top).Top: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff; Bottom: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

The longest and deepest rail tunnel in the world is finally opening in Switzerland, after a construction period that took almost two decades, cost about $12.5 billion, and claimed the lives of nine workers. The 35-mile Gotthard Base Tunnel, which runs beneath a mountain range of the same name and now connects Europe’s northern and southern regions, has been hailed as a marvel of engineering — and efficiency. Construction of the project took just 17 years, and came in slightly over its projected $10.3 billion price tag.

For Bostonians, the completion of such a massive construction project brings to mind a less-than-fondly-regarded chapter in the city’s history: namely, the Big Dig, that behemoth of an undertaking that first intrigued and then horrified locals as it soared over budget and beyond any clear time frame. As Switzerland cuts the ribbon on its new tunnel, which will carry approximately 260 freight trains and more than 60 passenger trains each day, here are a few comparisons between the Gotthard Base Tunnel and Boston’s most notorious public-works project.



The Big Dig swelled in price from a projected $2.6 billion to almost $15 billion. (The total increases to a stunning $24 billion when interest on the debt is factored in.)

Switzerland’s Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Alps cost around $12.5 billion, above its initial projections of $10.3 billion.


The Boston Transportation Planning Review first plotted to replace the Central Artery in the 1970s, and planning officially kicked off in 1982.

Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner was the first individual to conceive of and design a tunnel through the Gotthard mountain range, back in 1947. Construction, however, did not begin until 1999.


Boston’s Big Dig, bedeviled by a host of missteps, wasn’t just completed behind schedule. It dragged on years past its predicted completion date. Construction (on the Ted Williams Tunnel portion of the project) began in 1991. The Big Dig was mostly completed in 2006.


Swiss efficiency isn’t reserved for pocket knives and watches. Seventeen years in the making, the tunnel was completed on time. Swiss federal transport office director Peter Fueglistaler, hailing the construction’s punctuality and precision, called the project “a masterpiece of timing, cost and policy.”


The Big Dig involved replacing the six-lane elevated Central Artery (I-93) with an underground, eight-to-10-lane highway, building two new bridges over the Charles River, extending the Mass. Turnpike to Logan Airport, and opening up 300 acres of land.

The Gotthard tunnel, at 35.5 miles long, will create a high-speed rail link beneath the Swiss Alps between northern and southern Europe. It is projected to cut travel time between Zurich and Milan by one hour and take 1 million trucks off the Alpine roads annually.


At times, more than 5,000 workers toiled daily to complete the Big Dig.

About 2,600 workers were involved in the construction of the Gotthard tunnel.


Five people lost their lives in the construction of the Big Dig — four workers, as well as Milena Del Valle, of Jamaica Plain, who was killed when suspended concrete ceiling panels in the I-90 connector tunnel fell, crushing a car driven by Del Valle’s husband, Angel. He survived.


Nine workers died during construction of the Gotthard tunnel.

Isaac Feldberg can be reached at isaac.feldberg@globe.com.