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China Times: Tunnel fire highlights safety issues

2012/05/09 11:44:55

A fire broke out Monday in the Hsuehshan Tunnel following a car accident that left two people dead and more than 30 others injured.

Over the past six years since the 12.9-kilometer tunnel was opened to traffic, nine car fires have occurred inside it. This has exposed the tunnel's many safety problems that need to be fixed immediately.

The first problem involves the speed limit. With constant congestion having sparked public complaints, the speed limit in the tunnel was raised from 70 kph to 90 kph, plus a grace limit of 10 kph. This exceeds the limit allowed by the tunnel's design.

The second one is related to the distance between cars. The latest accident occurred when a passenger bus rear-ended a car in a line of vehicles that were trying to avoid a van in front of them that had a tire blowout. It is unclear if the vehicles were moving too fast at the time of the accident, but what is sure is that they did not keep a safe distance.

The standard safety distance is currently 50 meters, but many drivers pay no attention to the requirement.

The third problem concerns emergency escape procedures. Those who survived the disaster have complained about the absence of emergency broadcasts in the first few minutes following the blaze to help them reach escape shafts. Also, thick smoke was able to get into the escape shafts because the doors to the passage way did not close automatically after they were opened.

In truth, the rescue efforts were quite successful because it took only 37 minutes to discharge the smoke in the tunnel, and it was fortunate that no other people died except for the two who were killed in the collision. If we can address the existing safety loopholes, motorists will be even better protected. (Editorial abstract -- May 9, 2012)

(By Y.F. Low)