After 17 years of construction work, Switzerland's Gotthard base tunnel, which will provide high-speed rail connectivity between Northern and Southern Europe, witnesses the maiden train journey through it on Wednesday. The tunnel, situated under the Alps, measures 57 km in length and cost $11 billion to build.

French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German chancellor Angela Merkel will join Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann for the maiden voyage, the Guardian reports. The infrastructure project aims to speed up passenger and cargo transport by rail network under the mountains.

The project has been called "a masterpiece of timing, cost and policy," and reportedly delivered on time. "It is just part of the Swiss identity. For us, conquering the Alps is like the Dutch exploring the oceans," Peter Fueglistaler, Federal Transport Office director, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Economic benefits of the tunnel include easier movement of goods and passengers, and increase in tourism. The tunnel is reportedly financed by fuel taxes, road charges on heavy vehicles and other state loans.

As many as 2,600 people reportedly gained employment during its construction. The length of the drilling machine used was 410 metres (the equivalent of four football fields). About 4 million cubic metres of cement was used to construct the tunnel and copper cable measuring 3,200 km in length was also used, BBC reports.

The rail network, which will be opened to the public in December, will enable 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains to pass through the two-tube tunnel every day in 17 minutes.

The journey between Zurich (in Switzerland) and Milan (a province of Italy) would take about two hours and 40 minutes through this tunnel.