A dramatic fire inside one of Norway’s many tunnels on Monday points up the need to upgrade hundreds of them, officials have confirmed. A divisional director at the state highway department (Statens vegvesen) said two years ago that they may even need to replace the Gudvangentunnel, where Monday’s fire injured scores of motorists caught inside.
“This is one of the oldest tunnels we have in the county,” Nils Magne Slinde of Statens vegvesen told state broadcaster NRK back in 2011. “Much of it is from the 1980s, when demands for tunnel design and safety were completely different than they are today.”
A directive regarding traffic safety from the European Union (EU) calls for Norway to improve several hundred of its tunnels by 2019. Gunnar Gjæringen, a senior engineer at the highway department, told newspaper Aftenposten that the tunnel on the E16 highway that connects the popular tourist destinations of Gudvangen and Flåm in the mountains of Sogn og Fjordane is among those with the greatest need for opgrading. The work is set to begin next year.
Now much emergency repair is needed after the engine of a truck from Poland was said to have “exploded” inside the tunnel on Monday, setting the truck ablaze and filling the tunnel with smoke. “It is possible to turn around inside the tunnel,” Gjæringen said, “but in a situation like the one on Monday, it can be difficult and chaotic. The tunnel would have been built to another standard today.”
Emergency crews responding from Aurland, Voss, Førde and other mountain communities were being widely praised on Tuesday for saving lives and getting smoke inhalation victims to area hospitals. They claimed later, however, that it was difficult for them to communicate amongst themselves during the rescue operation because an emergency communications systems didn’t work inside the burning tunnel. They had to rely on mobile telephones and walkie-talkies instead.
The Gudvangen tunnel is 11.4 kilometers long and connects to another tunnel, Flenjatunnelen, which opens at Flåm at the end of the Aurlands Fjord. The route is part of one of the main highways between Oslo and Bergen.