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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Gotthard: Main Alpine link
The Gotthard Road Tunnel, scene of the latest Alpine tunnel accident, is the main north-south route through the Alps, between Italy and Switzerland.

Gotthard Road Tunnel
16.3km long
7.8 metres wide
Two lanes of traffic
Used by over 18,000 vehicles a day
Parallel service tunnel serves as escape route
The 16.3-kilometre (10-mile) tunnel is also the world's second longest, after Norway's Laerdal tunnel, and is used daily by more than 18,000 vehicles.

The Swiss authorities rate the Gotthard link as safe, but the fact that no central barrier divides the two lanes of traffic heading in opposing directions has prompted concerns before.

Calls for the erection of a barrier and the expansion of the tunnel are likely to be renewed after Wednesday's tragedy in which two lorries crashed head-on, starting a major blaze which left at least 10 dead.

Calling for the separation of the lanes, Markus Gisler, a member of the parliament of the Uri canton said: "This was an accident waiting to happen."


The Gotthard tunnel is part of the busiest motorway system in Switzerland which serves heavy goods traffic between Germany and Italy.

The Swiss authorities have repeatedly complained about the increased traffic on their roads after the 1999 closure of the Mont Blanc tunnel linking France and Italy.

Recent tunnel fires
Aug 2001: Five members of a Dutch family die in a fire caused by a collision in southern Austria
Nov 2000: 155 people die after a faulty radiator sparks a blaze in a tunnel in the Austrian Alps
May 1999: 12 die in a fire caused by a lorry crashing into five cars in Austria's Tauern tunnel
March 1999: 39 die in the Mont Blanc tunnel, linking France and Italy, after a lorry catches fire
That Alpine link was closed by a fire which killed 39 people and is not due to open until the end of the year.

Unlike the Mont Blanc tunnel, Gotthard has a parallel service tunnel which acts as an escape route. But the corridor is too narrow for fire-fighting vehicles.

Building on the Gotthard pass started in 1969 at both ends, the towns of Goeschenen and Airolo.

The tunnel was completed in 1980 after delays due to unexpected conditions, double the expected cost and the death of 19 workers.

It saves drivers 30km of a twisting mountain pass which is closed up to six months a year because of weather conditions.

Officials say the Gotthard tunnel will probably remain closed for days and is likely to cause massive disruption to traffic.

See also:

24 Oct 01 | Europe
Alps tunnels' record of danger
28 May 01 | Europe
Lorry fire closes Alpine tunnel
27 Mar 99 | Europe
Tunnel inferno 'warning ignored'
26 Apr 00 | UK
Tyne tunnel safety slated
27 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Switzerland
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