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Traffic lights not Millennium proof

TRAFFIC LIGHT control systems around the UK are still not year- 2000 compliant, it was revealed this week, raising the prospect of traffic chaos as the new millennium dawns.

Siemens Traffic Controls head of UK sales Peter Eccleson said he had written to local authorities warning that 600 lights maintained by the company are at risk of failure.

'These are only the ones we have records of,' he said.

'As we only maintain 50% of Britain's traffic lights there are likely to be hundreds more non-compliant control systems throughout the UK.'

But while the failure of traffic light control systems is likely to lead to jams on urban roads, Siemens claimed that it should not pose a danger to drivers.

'Systems operating with some degree of intelligence would default to simple time-phase operation and the net effect would be increased congestion,' said Siemens marketing manager Colin Baker.

The news was met with concern by motoring organisations. RAC head of campaigns Edmund King claimed the company had been 'fobbed off' by ministers over the question of year-2000 compliance, and called for the Government to ensure that all traffic control systems are fixed.

'Traffic in this country is on a knife edge anyway. What takes half an hour to build up can take five hours to clear, and we would be extremely concerned if even one major traffic light junction failed,' he said.

A spokesman from the Local Government Association said it was tackling year-2000 compliance with the Highways Agency, Welsh Office and Scottish Office. 'We hope to fix all the traffic light controllers but if a few slip through they will only cause very minor problems,' he said.

The Environment Agency will today test the Thames Barrier's year-2000 compliance in the full glare of the public eye. Soon-

to-retire ICE director general Roger Dobson will close the barrier's gates as a prize from the NCE Christmas charity competition - but not until the Agency has wound the central computer's clock forward to 2 January 2000.

Barrier manager David Wilkes said he was confident that the Agency would not face embarrassment. 'We are putting our neck on the block but we have spent about £100,000 on upgrading embedded chips and software,' he said.

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