REPAIRS AND safety upgrades at the fire damaged Mont Blanc road tunnel will cost £130M and take more than a year, French transport minister Jean Claude Gayssot said last week.
Work will see capacity of the single bore tunnel's ventilation system doubled and under road vent shafts converted to an emergency access and escape route.
French and Italian fire investigators said that at 55m3/second, smoke extraction capacity was half that of more recently built, comparable tunnels.
Gayssot was speaking after the publication last Thursday of the French and Italian governments' joint report on the fire which killed 41 people.
Fire investigators highlighted poor ventilation and the lack of a rapid escape route as key reasons for the high death toll. Motorists and vehicle passengers among the dead are thought to have suffocated within 15 minutes of the fire starting.
The tunnel operators will also have to repair the 600m section of fire damaged tunnel lining.
'The reopening of the Mont Blanc tunnel will be impossible within a year,' said Gayssot. He expected it to be ready and new safety procedures in place by autumn 2001 and said a new inter-governmental safety commission would be set up to monitor and certify safety.
An Italian company operates onr half of the tunnel with a French company running the rest. They will have to convince the authority that they have complied with the investigation team's key recommendations before the tunnel reopens.
The recommendations include setting up a jointly owned safety division to co-ordinate policy and define emergency procedures for the whole tunnel. Investigators discovered that when the fire broke out, neither company took immediate control of the tunnel.
The safety division will also ensure that the tunnel operators hold fire drills at least once a year.
(see cover feature page 14)