World Bytes

World Bytes: The Gotthard Rail Tunnel

By Terrance Malkinson

The world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel opened in Switzerland in June 2016. This 57 km (35-mile) twin-bore Gotthard base tunnel [] 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 46C. 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. ]. 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.
  • The May 20, 2016 special issue of Science focuses on “Urban Planet”. [Volume 352; Issue 6288. pp. 904-947. ]. Fourteen articles discuss important issues, challenges, and opportunities to meet the needs of a growing world population in a sustainable fashion.  More than half of the world’s population now live in cities. The articles delve deep into how we came to live in cities and what urbanization means for the future of our planet and ourselves. As stated in the introduction “the urban planet is here to stay; and the decisions we make today about how we build and live in cities will affect generations to come.”
  • The cover story of the June, 2016 issue of Railway Age [ ] focuses on the “Bright Future of Passenger Rail in America. Articles include: “Transit Focus: Phoenix”, “Train Control”, “Enterprise Information Technology Architecture”, and an extensive article entitled “2016 Passenger Rail Guide” pp. 24-34. This rail guide details state-by-state and city initiatives improving rail infrastructure and service. Related to this check out Donald Christiansen’s article “What’s All This With Trains?” Posted: 16 Jun 2016.
  • Nu Yang asks the question: is digital fatigue causing readers to return to print? [Editor and Publisher. 38-43. May, 2016. ]. 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.
  • “The 50 Best Places to Work” is the title of an article in the June, 2016 issue of Inc. [ ]. Fifty companies with up to 500 employees all have the common feature of deploying state-of-the-art techniques to keep their employees happy and productive, a welcome departure from a single track obsession on profit. Profiles of companies provide insights into the corporate culture that facilitates this result. Leading the ranking is Arkadium (media), followed by LaSalle Network (human resources) and CommonBond (financial services).  A few of the factors include offering one-on-one financial guidance 74%, opportunity to telecommute (84%), time for volunteerism (74%), and onsite fitness facilities (46%). In the same issue, profiles of thirty of Americas most dynamic young CEO’s are provided [ pp. 32-45 ]
  • “Increase your Return on Failure” is the title of an article by Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas. [Harvard Business Review. 94(5):88-93. May, 2016. ] that discusses how to learn from failure. The article begins with the large print headline ” “One of the Most Important and Most Deeply Entrenched Reasons Why Established Companies Struggle to Grow is Fear of Failure.”Ironically, as the authors discuss, although many companies claim to embrace failure has an integral part of the innovation process, near-zero tolerance of it blocks them from pursuing new ideas. The authors provide three steps that you can take to improve your organizations return on failure.  Success emanates from sharing that lessons learned from failure across the entire organization and regularly reviewing your overall approach to failure to make sure you are achieving the correct balance. In the same issue of Harvard Business Review four in-depth articles spotlight strategy, leadership decision making and risk management for managing an unpredictable future.
  • Profiles of the fastest growing franchising global brands are provided in the article “On Top of the World” by Tracy Stapp Herold in the July, 2016 issue of Entrepreneur [pp. 85-89. ].Leading the ranking is Anytime Fitness, followed by Bricks4Kids and 7-Eleven.  Interestingly food franchises dominate the international scene, making up 26% of the top global list.  An insightful graph depicts the most popular regions of the world for franchise expansion.
  • Selfless dedication to work, often unnecessary and harmful, is the central theme of the Harvard Business Review article by Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan “Managing the High Intensity Workplace”. [94(6):85-90. June, 2016]. Based on interviews with hundreds of professionals from many fields the authors discuss the issue and discuss three strategies for coping with demanding workplaces and the risks associated with each.
  • Conflict within a team can be positive, fostering debate and a superior yield.  Conflict can also be destructive killing productivity and stifling innovation. Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux in “How to Preempt Team Conflict” [Harvard Business Review. 94(6):79-76. June, 2016] discuss problems associated with the conventional approach to working through conflict and based on their research on team dynamics they have found that a proactive approach is much more effective. The authors provide strategies that focus on how people look, act, speak, think and feel.
  • In today’s workplace teams are diverse, dispersed, digital and dynamic. Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their article “The Secrets of Great Team Work” [Harvard Business Review. 94(6):71-76. June, 2016] discuss how teams continue to need the three enabling conditions of direction, a strong structure, and a supportive context. They introduce and discuss a fourth condition; “shared mindset”
  • “Americas Largest Corporations” are profiled starting on page 93 in the June, 2016 issue of Fortune. [173(8). ]. 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.

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

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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