The long tunnel under the Oslo Fjord that links Østfold to Hurum was likely to remain closed for at least two weeks, after another truck caught fire inside the tunnel Thursday afternoon. Shutdowns in the tunnel that was supposed to allow motorists to avoid Oslo are nothing new – it closes up to 300 times each year.
Though many were able to exit the tunnel either on foot or by car, some travelers were trapped for quite some time. More than 30 people were eventually evacuated by Southern Follo Fire Department, five of whom were admitted to Oslo University Hospital overnight, suffering from moderate smoke inhalation.
“The Oslo Fjord Tunnel is hopeless because it is steep, long and has no passing lane. It is simply undersized,” Olav Klasson Vefal, regional director for Buskerud, Vestfold and Telemark of the Norwegian trucking association Norsk Lastebileier-Forbund told newspaper Aftenposten. “We are just waiting for the major crash.”
The tunnel, built to ease traffic congestion in the capital, is often closed. Last year saw 33 scheduled shutdowns for road maintenance and minor works, but according to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA), an additional 250-270 unscheduled shutdowns occur each year, typically lasting 15-30 minutes.
Safety regulations in the tunnel are of concern to Øyvind Solberg Thorsen, director of the information council for Road Safety. He told Aftenposten that tunnel safety “is not nearly as good as it should be. Norway has an exemption from EU directives on tunnel safety. We need better notification, better lights and marking, and a parallel escape tunnel.”
The last accident in the tunnel occured as recently as March, when four people were injured after a truck caught fire. The steep incline forces truck drivers to brake almost constantly, causing the brakes to overheat.
“This is a steep tunnel and therefore we have very strict security procedures meaning that we close it at the slightest incident,” says Nils-Erik Bogsrud of the NPRA to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We believe it is as safe as it can be, but there is always a risk with tunnels like this.”
The tunnel will be closed for at least two weeks because of needed repairs following the fire. The closure comes just as the Norwegian tourist season kicks off, and coinciding with an increase in traffic due to the scheduled halt of all trains running through Oslo.
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