Switzerland’s Gotthard Road Tunnel disaster

Posted on October 25th, 2011 by James Luckhurst

Switzerland’s Gotthard Road Tunnel disasterON THE 10th anniversary of Switzerland’s Gotthard Road Tunnel disaster,  we have obtained a selection of images to show that drivers are still taking unnecessary risks as they go through the Tunnel. The images show vehicles overtaking (the Gotthard Road Tunnel has only one lane in each direction), performing U-turns, carrying dangerous loads and even stopping in the Tunnel. There are also images of trucks and coaches which have experienced difficulty during the Tunnel journey, either by overheating or jackknifing.  The Tunnel fire took place on 24 October 2001, when two trucks collided. In all, 11 people lost their lives and 128 others were injured.

Damian Meier, chief of local traffic police, told us: “Our priority is to make the Tunnel a safer, more secure environment. However, aSwitzerland’s Gotthard Road Tunnel disaster further seven people have lost their lives in the Gotthard Tunnel since the fire 10 years ago.  The most recent fatality was just three weeks ago, when a motorcyclist crashed into the Tunnel wall.  We try to identify and remove as many dangerous vehicles as possible before they enter the Tunnel. The images show a number of highly dangerous and illegal manoeuvres by drivers in the Tunnel. We deal robustly with these drivers who are putting their own lives and the lives of others at unnecessary risk.

Today, a number of measures are used by the Swiss police to improve the safety of the 17,000 vehicles that use the Tunnel each day.

These include:

  • Applying an interval feed-in system that allows no more than three trucks per minute to enter the Tunnel.
  • Enforcing a minimum 150-metre separation distance between trucks in the Tunnel
  • Requiring every truck approaching the Tunnel from the north side is directed through the purpose-built HGV Centre in Erstfeld (canton of Uri), where random inspections are made of drivers, vehicles and cargoes.
  • An annual rescue simulation exercise is carried out in the Tunnel. Joining police for this are crews from the Gotthard Fire Brigade and local emergency medical teams.

Switzerland’s Gotthard Road Tunnel disasterDamian Meier concluded: “The confined environment of a tunnel means that accidents and fires can have dramatic and devastating consequences. In addition, the potential disruption of the transport system following a fire will of course increase these consequences and can cause severe disturbances in the economy of a whole region.”

Safety advice for motorists travelling through long tunnels includes: keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front; staying well to the inside of your lane in tunnels like the Gotthard where traffic runs both ways; pay attention to speed limits- both maximum and minimum; and never attempt to turn round inside a tunnel.

About the Gotthard Road Tunnel

  • The Tunnel runs from Göschenen in the canton of Uri (north side) to Airolo in Ticino (south side).
  • It is just under 16.4 kilometres (10.2 mi) long, and lies beneath the St Gotthard Pass.
  • It opened in September, 1980.
  • It is the second-longest road tunnel in Europe, after Norway’s Lærdal Tunnel. (24.5 km).