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Who knew the Swiss were so jolly? The headline said they celebrated the opening of the world’s longest, deepest tunnel with alphorns and modern dance. I pictured Thorin Oakenshield joining a conga line.

Here’s what Camila Domonoske had to say at Rhode Island Public Radio/NPR.

“Swiss engineer Carl Eduard Gruner first imagined it in 1947: a massive tunnel, unprecedented in length, buried a mile and a half under Switzerland’s symbolic Gotthard mountain range.

“Nearly seven decades later, after redesigns, political disagreements and the long, slow work of drilling beneath the Gotthard massif, as it’s called, Gruner’s dream is complete.”

We pause here to remember John as Grumpy in Snow White singing, “We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in our mine the whole day through …”

Back to Domonoske: “The Gotthard Base Tunnel — a record-setting 35.4 miles long, and farther below ground than any other tunnel — was inaugurated [June 1]. The occasion was marked with a celebration that promoted ‘Swiss values such as innovation, precision and reliability,’ as the tunnel’s website puts it.

“The $12 billion project was completed on time, The Associated Press notes.

“The most eye-catching part of Wednesday’s ceremony was an extended modern dance sequence — featuring stony-faced dancers dressed in orange construction gear and boots, dancing on and around a flatcar.

“Another sequence featured dancers in white briefs and one figure with wings and an oversize head, while yet another sequence had people covered in suits resembling a cross between a pompom and a hay bale. …

“The inauguration of the tunnel also featured alphorns, an interfaith blessing of the tunnel and a tunnel theme song. Leaders from across the EU — including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, according to the AP — were in attendance.” More here.

So, I’m looking at this picture and realizing the Swiss aren’t so jolly after all. But then again, Thorin Oakenshield was about as jolly as Grumpy. But I’m sure they would both have liked the deepest. longest tunnel.

Photo: Peter Klaunzer/AFP/Getty Images

Artists perform in Erstfeld, Switzerland, at the opening of the Gotthard rail tunnel. The show was directed by German director Volker Hesse.

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When I first read about the discovery of a snug getaway in a Toronto tunnel, I thought, of course, of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. You remember the black man who finally gave up hope of being treated like a regular human and, realizing he was already invisible to most people, established a hidden pied sous terre, lavishly draining off electric power to light his home underground.

The Toronto story turned out a bit different.

The NY Times had the first episode. “It was a baffling discovery,” Ian Austen wrote, “a hand-dug tunnel just over 33 feet long, tall enough for an adult to stand inside, fed with electricity, drained by a water pump and expertly reinforced with lumber and plywood. It started in dense woods near a tennis stadium — and it did not lead anywhere.

“After more than a month of investigation by the Toronto police, the identities and motives of whoever built the tunnel remain as mysterious as they were the day it was found. So … the police turned to the public for help. …

“The news of the tunnel prompted swift speculation on cable television that it might be part of a plan for a terrorist attack on the Pan American Games, which will be held in Canada this summer. The stadium, located on the York University campus, is scheduled to host tennis for the games. But [Deputy Chief Mark] Saunders said repeatedly … that there was no evidence to support that theory or to indicate that the tunnel was intended for anything illicit at all.

“ ‘There’s no criminal offense for digging a hole,’ he said. …

“Chief Saunders said that the tunnel was equipped with ‘a moisture-resistant lighting system’ and that, despite the bitter January weather, ‘it was very comfortable inside,’ with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. A 12-foot aluminum step ladder gave access to the tunnel, and a small pit near the entrance held a Honda generator and an air compressor. The pit was lined with thick foam, apparently meant to muffle the sound of the machinery.” More.

A US News & World Report follow-up story is here. Can you guess? It was nothing nefarious — just a comfy man cave that a couple buddies built to get away from it all.

Photo: USNews.com
Toronto’s Deputy Police Chief Mark Saunders explains evidence photos as he speaks to the media about solving the tunnel mystery.

 

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Hurricane Sandy was terrible for many communities in its path, and the devastation has given urgency to climate concerns and innovative solutions.

Henry Fountain writes about one such solution in the NY Times, “With a few dull thuds, the one-ton bag of high-strength fabric tumbled from the wall of the mock subway tunnel and onto the floor. Then it began to grow. As air flowed into it through a hose, the bundle inflated until it was crammed tight inside the 16-foot-diameter tunnel, looking like the filling in a giant concrete-and-steel cannoli.

“The three-minute procedure, conducted on a chilly morning this month in an airport hangar not far from West Virginia University, was the latest test of a device that may someday help guard real tunnels during disasters — whether a terrorist strike or a storm like Hurricane Sandy, whose wind-driven surge of water overwhelmed New York City’s subway system, shutting it down for days.

“ ‘The goal is to provide flooding protection for transportation tunnels,’ said John Fortune, who is managing the project for the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate.

“The idea is a simple one: rather than retrofitting tunnels with metal floodgates or other expensive structures, the project aims to use a relatively cheap inflatable plug to hold back floodwaters.

“In theory, it would be like blowing up a balloon inside a tube. But in practice, developing a plug that is strong, durable, quick to install and foolproof to deploy is a difficult engineering task, one made even more challenging because of the pliable, relatively lightweight materials required.”

More.

Photograph: NY Times

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