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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 14:27 GMT
Safety fears across the Alps
accident site
The search is going on for the cause of the disaster
There is still no obvious cause behind the tragedy at the Kitzsteinhorn tunnel in Austria.

But it must raise questions about similar systems at three resorts in France and dozens of similar ones in Switzerland.

France has announced immediate safety checks on all its funicular railways.


Everything is being done to ensure that this type of catastrophe could not happen in France

French Transport Minister, Jean-Claude Gayssot
Bill McGuire, Professor of Geohazards at University College London, is a keen skier who has used the Kitzsteinhorn tunnel and others like it elsewhere in the Alps.

He believes that the tunnels are inherently dangerous and that if there is a problem there is little chance of escape.

"A lot of cable cars are being replaced by these things - they plunge through the mountains and take people up to 7,000ft in a couple of minutes, " he said.

"The tunnel is so close to the train, getting out would be incredibly difficult."

No worries

Ian McKellar, director of a skiing school in Avoriaz, France, has been in the tunnel were the accident happened and has never had any worries about safety.


The tunnel is so close to the train, getting out would be incredibly difficult

Bill McGuire, Professor of Geohazards and keen skier
He said: "I'd be more worried about getting into my car than going on a ski lift.

"I have been on this ski lift and I have been on a similar one in France and I have never had any worries."

Tunnel
Funicular railways are increasingly replacing cable cars
French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said: "Everything is being done to ensure that this type of catastrophe could not happen in France."

France has three funiculars similar to the one in Austria that carry passengers through tunnels.

All three were built between 1988 and 1993.

The Kitzsteinhorn funicular was built in 1974.

Nevertheless, a "very, very close" examination of operating conditions had been ordered, Mr Gayssot said.

Other disasters

The fatal train blaze in Austria is the latest disaster to befall road and rail tunnel users in the Alps in recent years.

In 1999, an inferno in the Mont Blanc road tunnel between France and Italy killed 39 people.

It took rescue services three days to extinguish the blaze, which was started when a lorry carrying margarine and flour caught fire.

Two months later a blaze in the Tauern motorway tunnel under the Alps in central Austria killed 12 people and left 50 injured.

After Mont Blanc, inspectors visited 25 of the continent's biggest road tunnels, and found that nearly a third had poor safety features.

Alpine trains have also had their share of disaster.

As recently as June this year, more than 60 people were injured when two mountain trains collided near Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | UK
Tyne tunnel safety slated
30 May 99 | Europe
Tunnel fire doused
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