Mondaine owners Andre and Ronnie Bernheim joined European heads of state in celebrating the opening of the world’s longest railway tunnel yesterday.
The twin-bore 57km Gotthard Base Tunnel goes 2.5km under the Swiss Alps at its deepest point and offers great increased rail capacity for both freight and passengers between central and southern Switzerland.
Mondaine are one of the sponsors of the £8bn tunnel having had a 30-year relationship with Swiss rail operators SBB, in licensing the design of the Swiss railway clock for watches and clocks.
Trains running at 200km/h can pass through the 35-mile tunnel in just 17 minutes, with passage between Zurich to Milan taking just two hours 40 minutes. WatchPro editor James Buttery was a guest of Mondaine at the ceremony and one travelled through the tunnel, which took 17 years to complete and saw 28m tonnes of rock excavated.
In an event that put even the most ambitious watch launches in the shade in terms of scale, the first trains, filled with hundreds of Swiss raffle winners, embarked from both north and south ends of the tunnel whilst lavish opening ceremonies got underway.
Then trains carrying German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern departed for the opening ceremony in Bodio which was brought to a dramatic conclusion with an air display courtesy of the Swiss air display team, Patrouille Suisse.
The opening will be followed up this weekend by festivities at numerous locations around Switzerland involved thousands of members of the public. Mondaine will be on hand at Erstfeld with a travelling museum and a watch maker assembling personalised watches.
The project began in 1992 when the Swiss voted to fund the tunnel by referendum. It was later decided to use the tunnel to move all of the freight passing through Switzerland from the roads to rail, equivalent to one million lorry loads each year.
Eventually the tunnel will form a vital artery to a larger pan-European project, linking the Dutch port of Rotterdam by rail with Genoa in Italy. The project, which is referred to in Italian as Gottardo 2016, is also seen as a way offering greater inclusion to the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland.