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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
UK's 'dangerous' road tunnels
Blackwall Tunnel
Both parts of the Blackwall Tunnel were criticised in the report
Four of the UK's busiest road tunnels are among the most dangerous in Europe, a motoring study has suggested.

The UK's AA Motoring Trust - part of a European motoring consortium which conducted the study - wants improved safety measures to avoid a potential disaster.

The northbound Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames was judged to be "very poor" while the southbound part of the same tunnel, the Rotherhithe Tunnel in London and the Tyne in Newcastle were all rated "poor".

But Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for the maintenance and operation of three of the tunnels, said it spared no resources to make sure they were safe.

I don't believe the public should be overly concerned about an incident occurring in the tunnels because we are doing our level best to ensure that incidents do not occur
Trevor Williams, chief engineer TfL
AA deputy director Bert Morris said that while the risk of an accident in tunnels was smaller than on open roads, any such incidents were potentially more serious.

He said: "Motorists cannot simply get out of the way or escape as easily, and is it harder for rescue teams to reach the scene.

"Recent disasters in the Mont Blanc tunnel which links France and Italy, in the Tauern tunnel in Austria and in the Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland show just how quickly a fire can lead to disaster."

The study's safety and risk ratings were based on several factors, including width of lanes, lighting, escape routes, fire systems, ventilation and crisis management.

'Follow Europe's lead'

Among the British tunnels' failings were;

  • A lack of lay-bys, emergency lanes and emergency lighting

  • No automatic closure of tunnels or activation of fire ventilation after a blaze was detected

  • Narrow emergency walkways

Mr Morris urged the UK to follow Europe's lead on tunnel safety.

"The best-rated tunnels in the report - the Weserauen in Germany and the Somport in France and Spain - have advanced features like fully automated fire detection, ventilation and closure immediately a crisis begins.

"It is high time that these and other measures were adopted here in our very busy UK tunnels before a disaster strikes."

Europe's most dangerous tunnels
1. Soller, Spain
2. Waasland, Belgium
3. Maas, Netherlands
4. Blackwall North, UK
5. Milchbuck, Switzerland
6. Nogent-sur-Marne, France
7. Piumogna, Switzerland
8. Tyne, UK
9. Blackwall South, UK
10. Rotherhithe, UK

TfL said the report was not comparing like with like.

The London tunnels were short, it said, and two of them are more than 100 years old.

It said fire detection and ventilation systems were in place but it could not provide emergency lanes because it would reduce the capacity too much.

TfL chief engineer Trevor Williams told BBC London: "We have highly trained emergency services very close at hand who fully involved in the planning for such incidents.

"We have ventilation systems which are more than adequate to cope with such situations.

"I don't believe the public should be overly concerned about an incident occurring in the tunnels because we are doing our level best to ensure that incidents do not occur."

Mr Morris said London tunnels were particularly dangerous and called for the government to earmark some of the 50m annual profit from toll fees for the M25 Dartford Crossing to fund a programme of improvements.

Light at the end of the tunnel
24 Apr 02  |  Europe
Tyne tunnel safety slated
26 Apr 00  |  UK News

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