SEDRUN, Switzerland (AP) -- The $10 billion, 35.4-mile (57-kilometer) tube will connect Europe's high-speed rail network and is part of a larger effort to cut in half the number of trucks - now at 1.2 million - that thunder through the
The joy and pride felt throughout
"Together we risked a lot," said Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger. "Together we achieved a lot."
TV stations across
Swiss voters approved the tunnel's construction in a series of referendums almost 20 years ago. Despite some criticism at the cost - almost $1,300 for every citizen - the proposal passed by a wide margin.
Leuenberger, who is also in charge of environment issues, praised Swiss voters and took a swipe at neighboring
"Today proves how sustainable, strong and efficient our direct democracy is," he told miners, VIPs and reporters amid the raucous underground celebrations.
His words were echoed by one of the 2,500 workers who toiled for more than a decade. Dieter Meyer, an electrician from
Meyer said Germans should reconsider their opposition to new rail projects if they are serious about protecting the environment and halting climate change.
"This tunnel is the future," he told The Associated Press. "In
Protesters in the southwest German city oppose plans to move
Peter Fueglistaler, director of the Swiss Federal Office of Transport, insisted Friday that "our neighbors in
Mindful that heavy goods traffic has contributed to the steady erosion harming fragile Alpine plants and animals - as well as cherished scenery - Switzerland has been tunneling through the Alps for decades.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel - first conceived in 1947 by engineer Eduard Gruner - beats
Other tunnels, including the recently completed 21.5-mile (35.6-kilometer) Loetschberg Base Tunnel, complete an underground network that few other countries can rival.
"I hope that this tunnel will have lots of brothers in the
First among them was foreman Hubert Baer, an Austrian.
"This is the most wonderful moment in my 36 years of tunnel building," Baer said, surrounded by Italian, Portuguese and Turkish workers.
Many paid tribute to the eight men who died working in the tunnel over the years. Some also took time to congratulate their colleagues on the other side of the world in
"That was fantastic for us, too," said Juergen Sandtner, another Austrian. "It was huge. That they managed to get them all out alive again was a great achievement."
By FRANK JORDANS
Associated Press Writer