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The BBC's Tom Heap:
"The Tyne Tunnel was one of six in the 'poor' category"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 04:19 GMT 05:19 UK
Tyne tunnel safety slated
Tunnel destruction
The aftermath of the Mont Blanc fire: 35 people died
The Tyne tunnel in Newcastle upon Tyne is one of the least safe in Europe, according to a study.

Inspectors visited 25 major tunnels around Europe after fire devastated the Mont Blanc tunnel in the Alps, between France and Italy.

They found that nearly a third of the tunnels had poor safety features.

The Tyne tunnel was officially rated as "poor" and languishes nearly at the bottom of the European league table. Only three tunnels scored fewer points.

Criticised

The inspectors found it had no automatic fire alarm system, no laybys or hard shoulder, and an emergency walkway which could be reached only by able-bodied people.

They also criticised its smoke extraction system.

But managers at the Tyne tunnel have insisted it is safe. They say all areas are monitored via television screens and there are sensors to detect stationary vehicles.

Other English tunnels fared better.

The Mersey Queensway tunnel in Liverpool was rated "acceptable", although its smoke extraction system was also criticised.



The UK tunnels inspected are well managed, but they haven't had the investment they need to keep them as safe as they could be

AA policy director John Dawson
The more recently built Mersey Kingsway tunnel was one of only eight across Europe to be labelled "good".

But the German inspectors, commissioned by European motoring groups including the AA, praised all three UK tunnels for having procedures in place to deal with emergencies and the passage of hazardous goods.

The policy director of the AA, John Dawson, said the English tunnels lacked the cash they need to keep them as safe as they could be.

"What is clear from the survey is that the UK tunnels inspected are well-managed, but they haven't had the investment they need to keep them as safe as they could be," Mr Dawson said.

British driver killed

The survey follows last March's blaze in the Mont Blanc tunnel, when 35 people died after a lorry carrying margarine caught fire.

British-born lorry driver Martin Cairns, who was based in Rotterdam, Holland, was among those killed.

Two months later there was another blaze in the Tauern motorway tunnel in central Austria, which killed 12 people and left 50 injured.

Inspectors who carried out the survey said two of the tunnels they visited - the Alfonso XIII Tunnel in Spain and the Fornaci Tunnel in Italy - were "very poor".

Six tunnels were rated "poor" and nine were "acceptable".

The inspectors were not granted access to the M25 Dartford Tunnel in Kent or to four Italian tunnels.

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See also:

29 May 99 | Europe
Tunnel fire doused
26 Mar 99 | Europe
Picture gallery: Tunnel inferno
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