Britain's road tunnels fail safety test

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The Independent Online

Britain's road tunnels were criticised yesterday in a European safety report.

None of the six British tunnels surveyed by European motoring organisations received a "very good" rating, and four were in the bottom third of a safety-standards table. The best was the Mersey Kingsway Tunnel, seventh out of 30, with the Dartford Tunnel 18th, Mersey Queensway 21st, Tyne 24th, Blackwall North 28th and Blackwall South 29th.

The Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames in east London, used by 50,000 vehicles every day, does not have fire extinguishers on one carriageway despite a car fire breaking out there last year. The northbound and southbound tunnels were rated "very poor". The report found that the Blackwall tunnels had no emergency lanes, could not demonstrate the effectiveness of fire ventilation systems, had no monitoring of speed limits and no soundproofing for emergency phone areas.

The AA said the absence of fire extinguishers in the southbound tunnel meant dealing with car fires would be difficult because water hydrants could not properly tackle burning petrol. The AA is calling for automated emergency systems to speed the response to a fire. "You need to react very quickly in a tunnel because you do not get a second chance," said a spokesman.

Transport for London, which owns the Blackwall Tunnel, said a £15.4m upgrade on the southbound carriageway due to start in June, would install new safety equipment.

Only three of the 30 tunnels were rated "very good". They included the Mont Blanc Tunnel linking France and Italy, where safety has been upgraded since a fire in March 1999 in which 39 people died.