October 15 - After almost a decade-and-a-half of drilling, a giant machine has broken through the final section of the St. Gotthard area Alpine rock to complete the world's longest tunnel.

The 57 km high speed rail link, due to open in seven years, will form the linchpin of a new rail network between northern and south-eastern Europe and is set to ease congestion and pollution in the Swiss Alps.

The new tunnel is 3 km longer than the world's previously lengthiest tunnel, the undersea tunnel connecting two Japanese islands.

The EUR7 billion (USD9.8 million) tunnel is set to remove significant heavy freight, including lorry-loaded project and containerised cargoes, from Alpine passes.

The new Gotthard tunnel is just one tunnel project on this key European freight route: there are two similar tunnel projects that have been put together by Austria, France and Italy through the eastern and western Alps that will both exceed 50km in length and are due for completion in the 2020s.

During the 15 years of construction, more than 13 million cubic metres of rock had to be removed and the construction cost eight tunnellers' lives.