Last Saturday, several vehicles caught fire in the Frejus Tunnel after a blaze, believed to have started in a truck transporting tyres, spread uncontrolled through the tunnel. Two Slovenian truck drivers were unable to escape from the tunnel in time and died from inhaling the toxic fumes. At least 17 other people were treated for smoke inhalation.
The Frejus tunnel is one of the main transportation arteries through the Alps and links Lyon to Turin. It has been closed indefinitely as fire fighters work to put out the fire and clear the tunnel of the toxic fumes from the tyres. An investigation into the tunnel’s air circulation system is also underway.
Even though response was quick and the blaze was immediately contained, this latest Alpine tunnel incident once again raises the issue of highway tunnel safety on those roads that are frequently used by large transportation vehicles. The worst incident to date was the Mont Blanc tunnel fire in 1999, which caused the death of 39 people.
88% of Italy’s commercial transportation is done by truck, and road safety issues are a major concern as truck-based highway transport continues to increase.