By Fatih Erel
GENEVA (AA) – The world's longest and deepest rail tunnel opened in Switzerland on Wednesday.
The 57.1 kilometer [35 mile] Gotthard Base Tunnel – which cost $12.5 billion to build – overtook Japan's 53.9km Seikan rail tunnel as the longest in the world.
Located beneath the Swiss Alps, the tunnel travels up to 2.3km below the surface of the mountains above.
It runs under the Alps from Erstfeld in the central canton of Uri, to Bodio in the southern Ticino canton and will cut journey times from Zurich to Milan for about 10,000 daily passengers down to two hours and 40 minutes, about an hour less than it currently takes.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi participated in Wednesday’s opening ceremony.
The tunnel project, which took 17 years to finish, was endorsed by Swiss voters in a referendum in 1992.
Switzerland's Federal Office of Transport said in a statement on Wednesday: "Around 160,000 interested individuals from the public applied for a seat in the trains which today will be the first to travel through the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT).
“This morning, the 1,000 lucky winners assembled in Arth-Goldau and Bellinzona to be welcomed aboard those trips and thereby to signal the start of today's GBT opening ceremony."
The authorities revealed that nine people who died in the tunnel’s construction had a memorial dedicated to them on Tuesday.