Construction work is in full swing in Europe's tunnels. The bustling activity is due to an EU Directive on minimum safety requirements for road tunnels across Europe by 2019. Many tunnels cannot be inspected for the test because of ongoing major construction work. Also, the testers see more and more upgraded tunnels, whose ratings improve dramatically. For instance the Tuhobić tunnel along the A6 motorway near Rijeka in Croatia: Second to last in the 2004 overall test ranking with a "very poor" rating, it is now one of the winners with a "very good" rating. A whole new tube was added, considerably improving safety. The small country on the Adriatic Sea - not yet an EU member but a candidate - is making every effort. Two new tubes, one in the Mala Kapela tunnel and one in the Sveti Rok, both on the A1 motorway, are scheduled to go into operation later this year.
Flashback In late April 2004, the European Parliament adopted a much-debated and amended EU Directive proposed by the EU Commission as early as 2002 - the EU Directive on Minimum Safety Requirements for Tunnels in the Trans-European Road Network (2004/54/EC). It was the first unitary legislation regulating minimum safety standards for road tunnels in Europe. The Directive's aim is to harmonise the management of tunnel safety at the national level, to regulate functions and competencies and to adapt technical regulations to international standards. The Directive specifies the minimum safety requirements - organisational, engineering, technical and operational - for road tunnels.
The new standards cover tunnels over 500m long which are part of the Trans-European Road Network (TERN), whether they are already in operation, or in the planning or construction stages. The EU Member States were bound to implement the Directive into national law by 1 May 2006. From this day, every newly-built tunnel must comply with the requirements. Every two years, the Member States must report to the EU Commission on the effectiveness of the facilities and measures in the tunnels affected, including accident analyses. Risk analyses are called-for if tunnels are not equipped in compliance with the requirements set out in the Directive. The Member States have developed various risk analysis procedures which are now being reviewed by the EU. Existing tunnels can be upgraded until 30 April 2014, in exceptional cases until April 2019. These tunnels had to be evaluated and a catalogue of action for each had to be developed by the close of April 2007.
Austria: On the Fast Track Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands took the lead in implementing the EU Directive. Some national regulations there exceeded the EU requirements by far when the Directive was enacted. For instance in Austria, a country that has quite a number of road tunnels, the disaster in the Tauern tunnel in 1999 was the reason for absolutely prioritising tunnel safety years ago. The Austrians do not wait until a tunnel comes under pressure. The Plabutsch tunnel was rated "good" in the 1999 tunnel test. Nevertheless, its operator decided to add a second tube. This brought the Plabutsch a "very good" rating in 2005. Quite another story, the Felbertauern tunnel which received a poor rating in 1999, the birth year of tunnel testing, underwent a four million Euro upgrade to be rated "good" in the 2004 test.
In May 2006, Austria enacted a road tunnel safety act. Its provisions exceed EU requirements by far as it covers all tunnels along motorways and expressways. The new requirements were implemented immediately, and by the end of the same year, the organisational set-up, including safety documentation and organisational structures, was concluded. Technical implementation is now scheduled in several phases until 2019. All tunnels were evaluated and, if necessary, their planning was reviewed; funding was appropriated for the execution of works. Over 5 billion Euros were invested. A similar amount was earmarked for the construction of some 30 new tunnels, which need not be finished by 2019. They will be state-of-the-art twin-tube tunnels.
The latest tunnel news from Austria: On 30 April, the second tube of the Katschberg tunnel on the A10 motorway known as "Tauernautobahn", a very important tourist route, will be inaugurated. The Amberg (A14), Gräbern (A2), Lainberg (A9) and Ganzstein (S6) tunnels have already opened second tubes. The Roppen (A12/2010), Tauern (A10/2011), Pfänder (A14/2013) and Bosruck (A9/2014) tunnels are scheduled to follow in short order. But this is not all. Since March of this year, the completely overhauled Tanzenberg tunnel near Kapfenberg has been open to traffic in all its new splendour. The Bruck and Niklasdorf tunnels (S6 expressway) as well as the Wolfsberg tunnel on the A10 will follow within the next few years. Except the Karawanken (A11) and the Gleinalm (A9) tunnels, all other tested tunnels in Austria have already been renovated. This clearly puts Austria in the fast track of road tunnel safety in Europe.
Germany: Full Steam Ahead
The situation in Germany is comparably good. Thanks to the regularly amended 1984 German guidelines specifying the equipment and operation of road tunnels (RABT), road tunnel operators were well-prepared for the EU requirements. RABT standards are among the most stringent in Europe, exceeding EU requirements. In Germany, only the administrative requirements set out in the EU Directive had to be dealt with and its implementation could be reported to Brussels on schedule. The federal government will invest some 570 million Euros in upgrading road tunnels along federal trunk roads. Of this funding, 300 million are earmarked for operational upgrading. 270 million are dedicated to engineering and construction work, e.g. on escape routes and lay-bys. The lion share of the budget is earmarked for federal states with many tunnels on their territories, such as Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia.
The upgrading programme proceeds at full blast but improvements cannot be expected overnight. Detailed and individual studies and planning, including plan-approval procedures in some cases, are necessary for each tunnel. This requires time. Upgrading the Universität tunnel in Düsseldorf, for instance, will take six years - with traffic flowing through. Works have been completed on the Kappelberg tunnel near Stuttgart (opened in 1992). After being rated "poor" in 2002, it was brought up to requirements with investments of twelve million Euros. It soared to a "very good" rating in 2006.
Latest news: the extensive renovation of the Füssen tunnel on the German/Austrian border will be completed by the end of April. One of the major tasks was the construction of a second, southward, escape tube. This is just one example for many tunnels that will follow. Planning and construction is particularly busy in North Rhine-Westphalia. Here, 33 road tunnel tubes on motorways, federal highways and other roads were or are being planned or built.
France and the Netherlands: Short Tunnels Included in Programmes France started upgrading tunnels shorter than the EU Directive's 500m in 2001. Action was triggered by the disastrous fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel in March 1999. Guidelines were developed promptly covering tunnels with a length of 300m or longer - some 200 in all. The works are scheduled to be concluded by 2012 and will cost some two billion Euros. The Netherlands also exceed the EU requirements. Guidelines were enacted to cover tunnels 250m and longer.
Spain Still Struggling
The news from Spain is positive again this year. We retested the Vielha tunnel on the N230 near the eponymous town which failed in 2000 with a "very poor" rating. Then a new tube (Juan Carlos I) was added, which meets all the engineering and technical requirements. It is also the first tunnel in EuroTAP history to be equipped with a state-of-the-art stationary sprinkler system.
The old Alfonso XIII tube is part of the new safety concept as an escape and rescue tube. This is not the first test loser turned winner after a thorough overhaul. The same can be said of the San Juan tunnel in Southern Spain. With a "very poor" rating, it failed the 2002 test. After a severe dressing-down from the national media as the worst tunnel in Europe, the Spanish government quickly invested some four million Euros to bring the tunnel up to par. Just two years later, it scored a "good" rating in the 2005 test. And the story goes on with the Rovira tunnel in Barcelona, tested in 2006 and rated "very poor" for significant deficiencies in most categories. Immediately, funding was made available for extensive rehabilitation. The tunnel operator agreed to have the Rovira retested when the works are concluded.
For the tunnels in its public road network, the Spanish government has approved a rehabilitation plan in 2007. To date, the estimated cost is 357 million Euros. But this estimate does not include projects still to be developed, which is likely to drive up costs. Spain is still in the early phase of implementation but plans to finish works on the approx. 200 tunnels in the TERN as scheduled by 2014. This represents 60% of its total tunnel network. The tunnels not belonging to the TERN have a 2019 completion deadline. Which is in line with the EU Directive, since Spain is likely to qualify for a deadline extension being a country with a greater number of tunnels than the European average. So far, 10% of the projects are completed. Works will be carried out in 14 tunnels this year. Smaller works have been completed in 35 tunnel tubes.
Slovenia Demonstrates Commitment Slovenia is committed to upgrading its tunnels. The Loibl tunnel on the Austrian/Slovenian border, a veteran of 45 years, managed to turn its "very poor" rating from 2002 into a "good", even though it is not a twin-tube and has no additional escape and rescue routes. The former is likewise lacking in the eight kilometre Karawanken tunnel - also on the Austrian border and therefore a joint Austrian and Slovenian responsibility. Slovenia is looking at a 2018 renovation deadline. But a decision must yet be taken on the construction of an escape tube and the necessary exits. The twin-tube Jasovnik tunnel along the A1, opened in 2002 and rated "good" in the 2004 test, is also scheduled for further upgrades. Renovation works have been completed on a number of smaller tunnels between Maribor and Celje.
Italy Lags Behind
Italy, the land of the black holes, is not quite ready yet. The competent ministry of transport has produced the outline of a general rehabilitation plan. The estimated deadline for works completion is 2019. Both the public ANAS (Azienda Nazionale Autonoma delle Strade) national roads agency and the private tunnel operators have done their homework and come up with action plans for their tunnels, including the EuroTAP tested Roccaccia (2005), Colle di Tenda (2006), Fossino (2006), Serra Rotonda (2007), Pacì 2 (2007) and Cernobbio (2008) tunnels, all of which failed with "poor" or "very poor" ratings. But so far, no budget has been approved to implement the projects. This comes as no surprise, considering that the initial cost estimate proposed amounts to a fabulous two billion Euros. Now, solutions must be found to kick off a large-scale tunnel rehabilitation programme soon.
Great Disparities Among Non-EU Countries Among the non-EU countries, great commitment must be attested to Switzerland. As an Alpine country, it is not unlike its famous Emmental cheese - riddled by tunnels. Switzerland has been implementing a rehabilitation programme for years, which should be concluded in 2012. To meet its goals, it will invest roughly 470 million Euros. With stringent national tunnel safety standards of its own, Switzerland also pledged in 2008 to comply with the EU Directive.
On the other side of the spectrum is Norway, also a country of very many tunnels. Here, programmes change with the governments elected every four years. But reliable budgets are unknown even within a legislative term. Budgets are cut or supplemented at will. One year, the available funds may be allocated exclusively to rail transport and nothing to road transport, another vice-versa. This is frustrating because it does not allow tunnel operators to plan ahead. This year the roads take priority with unusually high amounts allocated to infrastructure. Usually tunnel and bridge safety are top priorities. Unfortunately planning is behind schedule which will delay works. The top of the priorities list is a second tube for the Eidsvoll tunnel on the E6 motorway near Oslo which received a "poor" rating in the 2005 test. Works are scheduled to start this year. A new twin tube recently opened in the Eidet tunnel, 70km south of Oslo on the same motorway. Bottom line for Norway: long-term planning is problematic, but improvements are pursued wherever possible.