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Safety report set to slam Blackwall Tunnel

NEWS

SAFETY MANAGEMENT of London's Blackwall Tunnel is expected to be slammed as unsatisfactory in a report into the safety of European road tunnels due out next month, NCE can reveal.

Sources told NCE this week that the report produced for the AA and other European motoring organisations will reveal that current safety arrangements for London's Blackwall Tunnel are not good enough.

The news comes just one week after Transport for London awarded a £15.4M two year contract to Fitzpatrick to refurbish the Blackwall southbound bore (NCE 14 March).

The contract includes a new lighting system, wall cladding, fire fighting equipment, emergency phones and provision of a new maintenance walkway for the 35 year old tunnel which carries an estimated 100,000 vehicles every day. Work is expected to start in June However, the report is expected to say that safety management in the tunnel will also need to improve.

And although the tunnel has two bores, each allowing traffic in only one direction so reducing the potential of collisions, the 19th century north bound bore poses an increased accident risk because of sharp bends.

The influential AA report, which is due out on 23 April, follows inspections of the tunnel last month by German consultant Deutsche Montan Technologie. It is expected to prompt further spending to improve safety in UK tunnels.

A TfL spokesman said it was learning from other tunnel accidents and was adapting the safety specification for the Blackwall Tunnel accordingly.

Changes would maintain the good level of safety already in existence, they added.

This year's Tunnel Testing report features five UK tunnels - Blackwall, Dartford, Tyne and the two Mersey tunnels - while the 2000 report featured the Tyne and two Mersey tunnels.

Deutsche Montan Technologie looked at traffic volumes, lane width, condition of infrastructure, escape routes, communications and fire protection equipment, ventilation and crisis management to rank the tunnels.

In the 2000 report Newcastle's Tyne tunnel was ranked as one of the worst in Europe with a rating listed as poor. Merseyside's Queensway tunnel was rated as acceptable and its sister tunnel the Kingsway praised as being good.

The 2000 report also criticised the owners of four Italian tunnels along with the Dartford tunnel, the busiest in Europe with over 150,000 vehicles a day, for not allowing inspectors in to the tunnel. A spokesman for the Dartford Tunnel said then that not enough notice was given.

But the increased awareness of the dangers in vehicle tunnels meant assessors were this year allowed in. Forty people died in 1999 in Mont Blanc fire after a lorry caught fire in the tunnel.

Awareness was boosted after St Gotthard in Austria last October in which motorists died when two vehicles collided head on and burst in to flames.

Results from the 2000 report spurred action from other organisations responsible for the tunnels.

Merseytravel - responsible for the two Mersey tunnels - this year ordered the construction of three cross passages between the two to ease escape in the event of a fire. Work is scheduled to be completed in August.

The Local Passenger Transport Authority responsible for the Tyne Tunnel is now also set to put in a planning application for a second bore, under the Transport and Works Act by the end of this month.

This is expected to improve safety by relieving the existing bore.

Tyne Tunnel manager Peter Hedley said that he hoped the planning inquiry for the £139M project would be underway by the end of the year. A second tunnel would allow traffic in one direction. He added that work had also been done on emergency response for the tunnel in the event of an accident.

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