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UK tunnels escape EU safety net

EUROPEAN EFFORTS to harmonise road tunnel safety could be undermined because draft legislation only includes tunnels on strategic long distance routes.

For the UK this would only include the Dartford tunnels plus a tunnel on the north east section of the M25, between junctions 26 and 27 near Epping.

Major tunnels under the Mersey and Tyne would be excluded.

Draft guidance to the legislation, obtained by NCE, only covers tunnels which are 1km or longer on the Trans European Road Network (TEN) of key road routes.

The exact number of tunnels affected still has to be established, but the draft guidance estimates that around 900km of tunnels will be covered.

The guidance document specifies minimum standards for escape routes, ventilation systems, signs, emergency exits, a minimum layby spacing of 700m, cross passage escape routes for twin bore tunnels, and a maximum longitudinal gradient of 5%.

It also proposes that each EU state establish a tunnel administration and inspection body and that each tunnel should have a safety manager.

Restrictions on traffic, similar to those put in place when the Mont Blanc tunnel reopened in April are also proposed. These include a minimum distance of 50m between light vehicles and 100m minimum separation for heavy vehicles.

The European Commission is drafting the legislation following a series of fatal tunnel fires across Europe in recent years.

Forty people died in a fire inside the Mont Blanc tunnel in March 1999 and 11 died in October last year in St Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland following a crash (NCE 1 November 2001).

Road tunnel safety responsibility in the UK is currently split between local authorities and central government depending on the status of the road running through them. A recent European tunnel safety survey by motoring organisations including the AA ranked British tunnels among the worst in Europe (NCE 25 April).

Highways Agency senior adviser Robert Ford said that it was imperative to extend the scope of the legislation to include all road tunnels.

'We have yet to deal with the tunnels that are not covered by TENS, as we do not want to have two standards.' He warned that this might involve persuading the United Nations to bring the pressure of international law to bear on Europe.

The EU only has regulatory control for the TENS trade network. The UN transport committee can make recommendations to individual state governments about safety on other routes.

Ford said cost considerations would also determine whether the directive could be applied beyond the scope of the TENs.

It is estimated that introducing minimum safety standards across the TENs tunnels alone could cost as much as £4bn.

It is expected that the new directive will become law later this year, although as yet it has not been presented to European transport ministers.

INFOPLUS

For more on tunnel fires go to the NCE archive at www. nceplus.co.uk

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