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European Union to Strengthen Safety Rules for Road Tunnels

European Union to Strengthen Safety Rules for Road TunnelsThe transport ministers of the EU backed a directive proposal for stricter safety regulations in European tunnels, that were endorsed in a first vote of the European Parliament. European transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio expressed her satisfaction with the majority support to this directive proposal, which aims to avoiding disasters like the Mont Blanc tunnel fire at the border between France and Italy that killed 39 people. A joint stance of the European Parliament and the Council of ministers is expected for the first semester of 2004.The directive calls for maximum safety in tunnels, throughout operation, and in traffic and signalling rules. Minimum safety requirements will be applied to all tunnels exceeding 500 m with traffic of more than 2,000 daily vehicles per lane. There are more than 500 such tunnels in the EU, mainly located in Italy and Austria. This would oblige to review all tunnels in operation, which would suppose a cost of €2.6 to €6.3 billion.The directive will also apply automatically to all new tunnels under construction or on the drawing board, whereas a risk evaluation would be made in existing tunnels and a 10-year period would open to bring them to the new standards. In Spain for example, the authorities have made a first evaluation and it has been assessed that the cost to meet the new directive would amount to €200 million.The new requirements include special emergency lanes or compulsory rescue galleries, emergency exits and minimum equipment like fire extinguishers, visual control systems, broadcasting equipment and specific and similar signalling. The proposal also foresees to appoint in each EU member country an administrative authority responsible for tunnel safety and one or more bodies for technical control to carry out the inspections. In the case of cross-border tunnels, there should be an authority appointed by each country and a clearly unified traffic control centre.One of the technical requirements within the European Commission's proposal is that construction of single-tube tunnels will be permitted only when long-term forecasts show that traffic volumes will stay moderate (under 50% of the saturation level).In addition, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles shall be equipped with fire extinguishers and heavy trucks shall leave empty additional tanks when driving through tunnels.The Parliament also adopted amendments stipulating that tunnel gradients shall be less than 5%, that the number of lanes shall be identical in and out the tunnel or, in case this is not possible, that the carriageway narrowing shall take place long enough before the tunnel entrance.The directive will be enforced 24 months after its final approval and from then on, EU countries will have ten years to start the necessary works and upgrade their tunnels. Three years after the enforcement of the directive, 10% at least of all tunnels in each country shall comply with the new standards (50% after six years). More from Ton Huyssoon, e-mail region-press@europarl.eu.int. Visit www2.europarl.eu.int 46/03.