The St. Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland is the third longest road tunnel in the world (the longest is Lærdalstunnelen, which is 24.5 km (15.3 miles), and the second longest is the Zhongnanshan Tunnel). It runs from Göschenen in the north to Airolo in the south, and is just under 17 kilometres in length below the St. Gotthard Pass. It links two Swiss cantons: Uri to the north and Ticino to the south. This road forms part of the shortest road link from Hamburg, Germany to Sicily in Italy.
The widely used expressway tunnel was opened on September 5, 1980, in response to the automobile boom in Switzerland and the popularity of Italy as a travel resort.
On October 24, 2001, a collision of two lorries created a fire in the tunnel, killing eleven. The tunnel was closed for two months after the accident for reparations and clean-up.
The St. Gotthard railway tunnel, close but separate from the expressway tunnel, handles rail traffic on the north-south line in Switzerland. It was opened 1882. In this category, however, it is no longer the record-holder. The Seikan Tunnel in Japan and the Channel tunnel between the United Kingdom and France are both in excess of 50km (30mi).
In a few years to come, a second rail tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, will be completed (this tunnel is currently under construction, with increasing portions already complete), which will be longer (57 km) and be put into operation for the use of express trains travelling from northern Switzerland to the Ticino area and beyond.
The St. Gotthard tunnel forms part of the A2 motorway in Switzerland, running north from Basel through the tunnel down to Chiasso on the border with Italy.
Traffic flows through only one tunnel, which carries traffic both ways, with each direction allocated only one lane. The tunnel’s speed limit is 80 km/h.
The tunnel is heavily used and often home to traffic jams both on the north and south ends. In contrast, another tunnel through the Alps, the San Bernardino road tunnel in the canton of Graubünden, is relatively uncongested and shorter. The road taken on that expressway is actually longer than the direct route through the St. Gotthard tunnel.
There are also concerns on its safety. Statistics show that due to the nature of the tunnel (only one tunnel at present, with bidirectional traffic flowing without a physical divide), it is more perilous than a standard tunnel (two tunnels, each catering only to multiple lanes going in one direction). As a result accidents are more likely to happen.
In the tunnel, a distance of 150 metres between each car is enforced.