New tunnel rules to be introduced after high death toll


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The Independent Online

The Swiss bus disaster which claimed 28 lives is the latest in a long list of European tunnel accidents in recent years.

Strict new EU tunnel safety rules are due to come into effect in 2014 but fears have been expressed that some tunnels will not be ready to comply.

Tests of 26 tunnels in 13 European countries in 2010 by EuroTAP (the European Tunnel Assessment Programme) showed up a number of inadequacies.

EuroTAP mentioned inadequate breathing equipment for firefighters, missing hydrants, no barriers to close the tunnel, dark tunnel walls and insufficient escape route signs.

Some of the tunnels assessed lacked appropriate lighting and in-tunnel traffic radio reception.

Paul Watters, the AA's head of roads policy, said: "Happily, most UK tunnels are quite short and have good safety records.

"The UK has done reasonably well in the EuroTAP assessments. Some of our tunnels are very old, but they are being updated. The recently-opened, mile-long Hindhead A3 tunnel in Surrey meets EU Directive standards.

"Sadly, there are a number of collisions in tunnels in Europe, but the main concern is fire."

Some of the worst European tunnel accidents have been in Switzerland. In October 2001, 11 people were killed when a head-on collision between two lorries in the Gotthard tunnel led to a fire.

Another collision in the Gotthard tunnel in August 2003, between a lorry and a car, led to the death of the car driver, with the lorry driver and the car passengers all being seriously injured.

In February 2010 there were four tunnel accidents in the Zurich area in less than two hours. In one of them, a lorry crashed into the wall of the Bubenholz tunnel. There were no serious injuries in these crashes.

Just three days after these four incidents, five people were injured when a drunken driver collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle which hit the wall of the Seelisberg tunnel near Lucerne in Switzerland.

One of the worst tunnel incidents was in March 1999 when a Belgian lorry carrying flour and margarine caught fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel on the France/Italy border. The fire was not put out until 24 hours later, by which time 39 people had lost their lives.

In October 2001, five people died and nine were injured when a lorry drove into a car in the Guldborgsund tunnel near Copenhagen.

Two people died and seven suffered smoke poisoning when a lorry carrying tyres caught fire in the Frejus tunnel between Chambery in France and Turin in Italy.