DARTFORD TUNNEL'S operator this week insisted it had nothing to hide from safety inspectors, despite recent criticisms from the European Motoring Association that it refused to co-operate with a safety audit.
According to a tunnel safety report published last week by the EMA, Dartford was one of the only major road tunnels in Europe to refuse access for its safety inspection.
However, Dartford River Crossing managing director Peter Goddin told NCE: 'We had one month's notice that the inspections were going to take place, and simply couldn't accommodate them within the current programme of night-time closures.'
The inspections, conducted by German consultant Deutsche Montan Technologie, used a checklist based on German and Austrian tunnel regulations. The inspections were prompted by fears about fire safety in tunnels, a year on from the Mont Blanc tunnel fire which killed 35 people.
Three other UK road tunnels, the Tyne and the two Mersey tunnels, were inspected, along with 22 others in Europe. All three UK tunnels were criticised for not having automatic fire detectors, accessible raised walkways and soundproofed phone enclosures.
The survey rated the Tyne tunnel as poor and Mersey Queensway as acceptable. Both were specifically criticised for potential problems with the smoke extraction system. Mersey Kingsway achieved a good rating.
But UK operators were praised for their procedures to deal with emergencies and the passage of hazardous loads, for having dedicated firefighting teams and facilities to remove broken down vehicles quickly.
John Dawson, policy director of the AA, said: 'What is clear from the survey is that the UK tunnels inspected are well managed, but they haven't had the investment to keep them as safe as they could be.'
The report gave the Alfonso XIII tunnel in Spain and the Fornaci tunnel in Italy very poor ratings. Highest marks went to Gubrist tunnel in Switzerland, and Engelberg and Konigshainer Berge tunnels, both in Germany.