New EuroTAP tunnel test: The Stony Road to Refurbishment - Some Light at the End of the Tunnel
12 October 2012
The 13th EuroTAP tunnel test has just been carried out by five FIA Clubs: ADAC in Germany, ACI in Italy, ANWB in the Netherlands, ÖAMTC in Austria, and TCS in Switzerland. The results highlight the good progress made by certain tunnels, in particular the Wattkopf Tunnel in Germany and the Tauern tunnel in Austria.
Jacob Bangsgaard, Director General of the FIA Region I office in Brussels, said “The latest EuroTAP results show that important improvements in tunnel safety have been made in recent years. These have been spurred by legislation which has required fresh refurbishments, higher standards, new tunnel safety plans, and so on. At the same time, tunnel operators have been seen to react very quickly to the independent tests carried out by EuroTAP”.
Construction work on an unprecedented scale is still going on in European tunnels to ensure compliance with the 2004 EU Directive on Road Tunnel Safety. The progress already made on the road to implementing the Directive's ambitious goal of making all European tunnels safe by the year 2019 is an issue well worth investigating. On single safety criteria, the EuroTAP tunnel test shows that there is still room for improvement for European tunnels, in particular in terms of escape routes and fire protection.
The EuroTAP testers had ten tunnels in five European countries on their agenda: one each in the Netherlands and Austria, two in Germany, and three each in Italy and Switzerland. The test objects were selected by their length, their location in the trans-European road network, and their significance for tourist travel. Six of them had already been tested before.
Wattkopf Tunnel: Substantial progress
Once upon a time, there was a tunnel whose condition can only be described as deplorable. It was a bidirectional, single tube that had no extra escape or rescue routes, no fire emergency lights, no automatic detection of traffic disruptions and no barriers in front of the portals, insufficient shoulder markings, an inefficient ventilation system. The fire fighters in charge had no special tunnel training. And, as if that were not enough, emergency calls were routed to one police station while the video images were received at another. The Wattkopf Tunnel near Ettlingen in Germany had a long list of deficiencies. Consequently, the experts whom EuroTAP deployed for their first inspection of the tunnel in 2004, gave it a "very poor" rating. The tunnel operators vowed - and actually implemented - substantial improvements.
Wattkopf Tunnel escape tube inaugurated in 2012
In 2008 a second test was conducted, which might have resulted in a "good" rating, had the tunnel not been downgraded to "acceptable" because it still had no escape and rescue routes. However, plans to build a parallel rescue tube were already underway. On 30 March 2012, the time had finally come to inaugurate the 1.5km long escape tube with six cross passages to the tunnel. Once again, the testers took a thorough look inside and - lo and behold - every single deficiency on the list had been remedied. The reward for the tunnel operators' efforts was an easy "good" rating. The fly in the ointment: the tunnel has only one tube for bidirectional traffic - per se a potential source of risk.
Tauern Tunnel wins with flying colours
This individual result is just as pleasing as the overall outcome this year of the 13th tunnel test conducted by EuroTAP. Not a single negative rating to spoil the fun: two tunnels were rated "very good", another two "acceptable", and six received a "good" rating. The Wattkopf Tunnel may be the most current example of successful refurbishment, but it is not the only one. The triumphant best-in-test with its "very good" rating is one of several tunnels successfully refurbished by investments to the tune of several million Euros. The winner is the Tauern Tunnel, located near Zederhaus on the Tauern motorway in Austria (A 10/ Salzburg - Villach). Flashback: In May 1999, a disastrous fire raged inside the almost 7km long tunnel - a single-tube construction at the time. Twelve people lost their lives, 42 were injured. This catastrophe gave an incentive - and so, incidentally, did the EuroTAP tunnel tests - to implement a large-scale refurbishment programme of European tunnels on the basis of an EU Directive.
ADAC testers had inspected the tunnel just before the catastrophe. In their opinion, the Tauern Tunnel gave cause for concern: for instance, it provided no escape routes other than the portals. At the time, only one tunnel had a poorer test rating. The year 2000 saw the tunnel's first modernisation, improving its rating to "acceptable" in a second test. In 2006, some 30 years after it started operating, construction work began on a second tube for the tunnel, which was officially opened for transport on 30 April 2010. Next, the first tube was refurbished. Finally, on 30 June 2011, traffic ran through both tubes for the first time. They now have everything a safe, state-of-the-art tunnel needs: additional escape and rescue routes marked by emergency lighting; lay-bys; end-to-end CCTV monitoring including automatic detection of traffic disruptions; sound-proofed emergency phones, fire extinguishers, state-of-the-art fire alarm and fire-extinguishing equipment - to name but a few highlights. That is what a winner looks like.
Refurbishment planned for the last-in-test
The last-in-test, rated "acceptable", is the Isla Bella Tunnel near Rothenbrunnen in Switzerland on the A 13 (St. Margrethen - Mesocco). It started operating in 1983 and is some 2.5km long. Its mediocre result is mainly owed to the absence of additional escape and rescue routes. Otherwise, it was more or less on a par with its competitors. Plans for refurbishment, including the construction of an escape tube, are already underway.
Italian tunnels catching up
The remaining four tunnels completing the positive image conveyed by the repeatedly tested tunnels are: Colle Capretto and San Pellegrino, both in Italy, built in 1974 and in 1972, respectively. The veterans in the test worked their way up from "poor" to "good". Considering that Italian tunnels usually perform rather poorly in the tests, this is certainly a pleasing result, especially because the third Italian tunnel, Dervio, tested for the first time this year, also rated "good". Isla Bella in Switzerland improved from "poor" in 2000 to "acceptable". On the other hand, the Gubrist Tunnel, also in Switzerland quite exceptionally dropped from "good" in 2000 to "acceptable". One reason is that standards have become more exacting.
Nobody is perfect
Despite the positive overall result, EuroTAP testers did note some deficiencies here and there. However, they did not have to apply the knock-out criterion this year, i.e. downgrade the overall result when certain categories show poor results. Having said that, Gubrist and Schweizerhalle in Switzerland and the Roer tunnel in the Netherlands - which started operating in 2009 and is the "youngster" in the test - have neither lay-bys nor emergency lanes. Gubrist, Isla Bella, Schweizerhalle, Colle Capretto, and San Pellegrino were found to have no loudspeakers in the tubes, on the portals, and in the emergency exits. However, these are essential to inform tunnel users about hazards in an emergency or to give them instructions.
With a daily traffic volume of more than 100,000 vehicles each, daily traffic congestion is inevitable in the three most frequented test candidates Allach, Schweizerhalle and Gubrist. Unfortunately, the latter has a rather high speed limit of 100kph, which is reflected in the high number of accidents. The Dervio tunnel is congested in the southbound direction every weekend. In all three Italian tunnels tested, the fire brigade's respiratory equipment does not even allow a full hour of use - which is way too short.
Still room for improvement
The positive tendency in this year's tunnel test shows the efforts undertaken by tunnel operators to improve the safety level of their tunnels. The road is rough and stony, and the challenging goal has not yet been achieved by all. Therefore, continued and redoubled efforts are required to finally make tunnels throughout Europe safe by 2019.
For more on the results, please go to the EuroTAP webpage: here