Tunnel Tests 2008

UK drivers kept in the dark over tunnel safety

23 April 2008

emergency services tackle a lorry fire in a road tunnel

In the year that the UK Government failed to report tunnel condition and improvement plans to the EU, an annual independent survey of tunnels across the Continent has produced the worst result for five years.

No UK tunnels were inspected for this year's European Tunnel Assessment Programme (EuroTAP), partly because of ongoing improvements in some and reluctance of operators to have others assessed.

Nine of the 31 European road tunnels tested failed to meet minimum safety standards required by the EU Directive on safety in road tunnels1. Five of the tunnels tested scored very poor and two were poor.

Best and worst

Europe's 'bottom of the league' tunnels tested in 2008 are:

  • Cernobbio, Italy (Very poor)
  • Waasland, Antwerp, Belgium (Very poor)
  • Breva, Italy (SS 340 near Menaggio) (Very poor)
  • Marinasco Spain, (NSA 303 near La Spezia) (Very poor)
  • Eikefet, Jernfjell and Matreberg tunnels, all in Norway (Very poor)
  • Pando, Spain (AP 66 near Pola de Lena) (Poor)
  • Universität Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf) (Poor)

Best European tunnel in 2008 is the Pont Pla tunnel in Andorra la Vella, Andorra.

AA comment

"The UK Government's failure to produce an assessment of UK tunnels and improvement plans by 2007, as required by the EU directive, is a serious worry2," says Edmund King, the AA's president.

a car burning in a tunnel "Fire is the biggest danger for road users in tunnels and knowing what to do can save your life. Equally, the quality of the tunnel and its systems can be a life saver too. It is a disappointment that no UK tunnels were included in the 2008 test programme due to ongoing programmes of improvement and, in some cases, the reluctance of UK tunnel authorities to allow independent inspection."

King adds: "Some UK tunnel authorities have shown what can be done, for example at Mersey where major investment has improved the rating of both Mersey Tunnels. However, UK tunnels tend to be old and thus need sustained heavy investment to upgrade.

"At the Tyne Crossing a second bore is being constructed which will significantly improve safety. At the Medway tunnel age is not the problem but communication systems are - it is very regrettable that investment plans here have been delayed."

More information

A list of major tunnel accidents in the past year follows below. The AA has published online the full 2008 EuroTAP report on 31 European tunnels and important safety advice for drivers.

Full report (493kB Pdf document) »

Summary results table (187kB Pdf document) »

Detailed Map showing locations of tested tunnels (1.39MB Pdf document) »

Tunnel safety - keeping out of trouble / dealing with emergencies »

Notes to editors

1 http://ec.europa.eu/transport/roadsafety_library/infrastructure/directive_2004_54.pdf

2 http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/158&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

The EU Directive applies to road tunnels on the Trans European Road Network, (TERN) which are longer than 500 metres in length. There are currently seven such tunnels in the UK:

  • three are the responsibility of the Highways Agency (A282 Dartford, two bores of 1,400m each; A1(M) Hatfield, 1150m; M25 Holmesdale, 650m);
  • one is the responsibility of Kent County Council (A256 Ramsgate, 800m); and
  • three are the responsibility of the Welsh National Assembly (Conway, 1,100m; Pen-y-Clip, 900m; and Penmaenbach, 660m).

These tunnels will need to comply with the requirements of the Directive within ten years of the Directive's adoption (that is, by 30 April 2014).

The costs to the UK of compliance are for infrastructure modification. The Highways Agency has estimated the (gross) cost of bringing all existing UK tunnels (within the Directive's scope) into compliance with the Directive to be about £90 million.


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Major tunnel incidents since April 2007

18 January 2008 in Austria

In a mass pile-up in the Ofenauer tunnel on the A 10 Tauern motorway, three people were seriously injured and 14 slightly. Three lorries and 15 cars, including a police car, became entangled. According to first information, the accident was caused by extreme ice on the road surface near the tunnel exit.

29 November 2007 in Austria

In the Großliedl tunnel on the south motorway near Bad St. Leonhard, a lorry rammed a car from behind, sending it crashing into the tunnel wall. The 35-year old female driver of the completely demolished car was injured.

3 November 2007 in Belgium

In the Waasland tunnel in Antwerp, two cars collided head-on. Another two cars crashed into the accident site. Two people were seriously injured and one person sustained slight injuries.

12 October 2007 in the US

In a tunnel on Interstate 5, the main link between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in rainy conditions, two lorries collided on the wet surface and triggered a chain reaction. Another 13 lorries crashed into the accident site and caught fire. Flames shot 20 metres out of the portals, explosions were still to be heard hours after the accident took place. The enormous heat caused concrete to melt and fall onto the road, the fire brigade feared that parts of the tunnel would collapse. 20 people were able to escape the burning inferno on foot, ten of them were injured but only slightly.


18 September 2007 in Austria

Motorists had a close shave in a mass pile-up in the Ehrentalerberg tunnel on the A 2 (south motorway) near Klagenfurt involving a total of 14 cars and lorries. This accident was probably triggered when two lorries driving parallel came into contact with each other. Despite the "huge tangle of metal", to quote a witness, nobody was injured.

10 September 2007 in Italy

In the San Martino tunnel on the SS 36 near Lecco, a lorry crashed into the tunnel wall and caught fire. This triggered a mass pile-up. It took rescue services 45 minutes to arrive at the scene of the accident. This was too long. Two people died, ten people were taken to hospital suffering from smoke poisoning.

27 August 2007 in Italy

In the Tarviser Tunnel, a short distance from the border between Austria and Italy, on the Kanaltal motorway, a car skidded and crashed into the tunnel wall. A car coming up behind collided with the first vehicle. The driver of the first car died, her passenger was seriously injured. Both passengers in the other car, a mother and her young daughter, sustained slight injuries.

10 May 2007 in Austria

In the Pfãnder Tunnel on the A14 near Bregenz, a German lorry swerved onto the opposite lane and collided head-on with an articulated lorry from the Czech Republic which then blocked the traffic lane. A motorbike and another car crashed into the lorry. The motorcyclist and his passenger were seriously injured, the two motorists sustained slight injuries.

Eurotap on YouTube

Find out more about Eurotap and tunnel safety in this short video published on YouTube

AA Public Affairs


23 April 2008