World Bytes: The Gotthard Rail Tunnel

World Bytes: The Gotthard Rail Tunnel

BY Terrance Malkinson Posted: 8 Jul 2016

The world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel opened in Switzerland in June 2016.  This 57 km (35-mile) twin-bore Gotthard base tunnel [www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36423250] provides a high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps between northern and southern Europe. The primary purpose of the tunnel is to facilitate the rapid, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible transport of freight and passengers across the Alps. Taking 17 years to construct and costing more than $12B, the project was endorsed by Swiss voters in a referendum in 1992. Workers maintained Swiss tradition, and brought the massive project in on time and on budget. This is an important component of a larger Swiss strategy to move all freight travelling through Switzerland from road to rail. At its deepest point, the tunnel is located almost 2.3 km below the surface through rock that reaches temperatures of 46°C. Engineers dug and blasted through 73 different kinds of rock with more than 28 million tons of rock being excavated.  Much of this rock was then processed to make the 4,000,000 cubic meters of concrete used to build the tunnel. It is predicted that 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will pass through the tunnel each day in a journey taking as little as 17 minutes.

It is likely that we will soon witness many more massive tunneling projects as innovations in engineering technologies make their construction efficient and cost-effective.  Importantly, these shorter rail transport channels provide significant environmental benefits.  In Europe, the next large alpine tunneling project is in progress, with the 55 km tunnel underneath the Brenner, designed to connect Innsbruck in Austria and Bolzano in Italy. A proposed 80 km underground train link connecting Helsinki in Finland and Tallin in Estonia is awaiting approval.  The Chinese government plans to build a tunnel more than twice the length of the Gotthard base tunnel underneath the Bohai Straits (123 km), which will reduce travel time between the port cities of Dalian and Yantai from eight hours to forty-five minutes. Perhaps with innovations in engineering and materials science in the very distant future, high-speed transport tunnels will exist, connecting the Americans, Europe and Asian continents.

Other Bytes

  • For fans of video games, Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green, both who are psychology professors, report on how this activity is not only fun but also has the side benefit of a lasting improvement in mental skills. [Scientific American. 315(1):26-31. July, 2016. www.scientificamerican.com ].  Skills improved include attention, faster processing of information, flexibility in switching from one task to another, and visualizing the rotation of an object to name but a few. The authors as well as other scientists peer-reviewed research over the past fifteen years has backed up these claims.  In their conclusion the authors suggest that customized and well-designed video games have the possibility of helping people with cognitive deficits.
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  • Nu Yang asks the question: is digital fatigue causing readers to return to print? [Editor and Publisher. 38-43. May, 2016. www.editorandpublisher.com ]. In the introduction to her article “A Print Renaissance” it is stated that 17 new webpages are published every second and that digital fatigue setting in with consumers wanting quality content not quantity.  In the article she discusses many reasons why digital communication is becoming irritating to seekers of information.  She believes that the newspaper industry and print in general is poised for a revival with users wanting to step away from the noise and are seeing relevant information that is more nourishing and in depth than that which exists on a webpage.
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  • “Americas Largest Corporations” are profiled starting on page 93 in the June, 2016 issue of Fortune. [173(8).  www.fortune.com ].  A variety of categorical rankings, profiles of selected companies, and feature articles on this topic are provided.
  • It is well known that one of the most frequent reasons why established companies struggle to grow is fear of failure.  In “Increase Your Return on Failure” Harvard Business Review. [94(5):89-92. May, 2016. ] Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas discuss how many companies claim to embrace failure as an integral part of the innovation process however in reality zero-tolerance for it.  This blocks them from pursuing new ideas.  The authors outline three steps that you can take to improve your organizations return on failure.  As the authors conclude “mistakes are the inevitable consequence of trying something new. But they can also be a source of tremendous value in the form of learning if your firm has the right mindset.

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Terrance Malkinson is a communications specialist, business analyst and futurist. He is an IEEE Senior Life Member and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Future Society. He is currently an international correspondent for IEEE-USA InSight, an associate editor for IEEE Canadian Review, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the IEEE Institute. Additionally, he leads a number of applied research projects. The author is grateful to the staff and resources of the Reg Erhardt library at SAIT Polytechnic and the Haskayne Business Library of the University of Calgary. He can be reached at malkinst@telus.net.

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