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Mont Blanc tunnel stays shut

Thirty-nine people died in the Mont Blanc tunnel fire Keystone Archive

The Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy will not reopen to cars as expected on December 22 since safety checks will not have been completed by then.

The Italian Transport Ministry said the two countries have agreed to delay the opening of the tunnel until mid-January to ensure that all safety measures are carried out.

“The necessary technical tests cannot be finished in time,” confirmed a spokesman for ATMB, the company in charge of the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Last week, France and Italy’s transport ministers said that from December 22, non-commercial traffic would be allowed to use the tunnel, which has been shut since March 1999 after 39 people died when a truck travelling through it caught fire.

Traffic disrupted

Trans-alpine traffic has been severely disrupted since the Mont Blanc tunnel disaster. The situation was made more difficult by the closure of the Gotthard tunnel between Switzerland and Italy following October’s fatal fire in which 11 people died.

The Gotthard accident meant that two of the five north-south trans-alpine road tunnels were closed, causing a massive increase in the volume of traffic passing through the remaining three: Fréjus, between France and Italy, the San Bernardino in Switzerland and the Brenner in Austria.

This is the second time that the reopening of the Mont Blanc tunnel to cars has been postponed. Last month French and Italian transport ministries scrapped the original date of December 15, because safety tests were running behind schedule.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR