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  • New Alpine tunnel fire brings pressure for shift

    The EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot has called for an “urgent rebalancing of road and rail” after the latest fire in a road tunnel through the Alps.

    Two people died when a lorry carrying non-dangerous cargo crashed last month and caused a fire. The Fréjus is the fourth Alpine road tunnel to have a fire in recent years, following fatal crashes in the Tauern, Mont Blanc and Gotthard tunnels.

    The crash caused the Fréjus tunnel to be closed, and it will remain so for at least the next few weeks. The immediate effect has been to drive lorry traffic to the Mont Blanc tunnel, which re-opened in 2002 after a four-year closure following the fire in March 1999 in which 39 people died.

    Environmental organisations in the Mont Blanc area staged a demonstration against the increase in traffic. All are calling for more measures to shift freight from road to rail, and T&E member The Alpine Initiative says the only realistic solution is to ban all lorries from tunnels, unless transported on trains.

    Officials in the Chamonix valley near Mont Blanc are saying the Fréjus tunnel will be re-opened in September, but feelings among residents are running so high that local activists fear politicians are only saying September because if they admit it could take a year they risk starting a mutiny.

    An Italian road haulage federation said Italy’s government was partly to blame for having allowed private companies to increase tolls by 200% while spending little on safety measures. It says the economic cost of the tunnel’s closure is €2 million per day.

    • The Swiss government has given its support to a railway station to serve skiers 800 metres under ground. The “Porta Alpina” is being built as an emergency exit in the 57km tunnel through the Gotthard mountain range, but the plan is to open it commercially as it would cut the journey time from Zurich and Milan to the Sedrun resort to 50 minutes.

    This news story is taken from the July 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.