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Tunnel fire prompts calls for second road through Gotthard

Traffic backed up on Thursday morning after an accident at the San Bernardino pass Keystone

A devastating fire in the Gotthard tunnel, on Switzerland's main north-south road, has prompted renewed calls for a second route through the tunnel.

Leading Swiss motoring associations have demanded that authorities speed up efforts to construct another road.

In statements published after the accident on Wednesday they said the authorities would be irresponsible and negligent if they continued to block the construction of an additional route linking central Switzerland with the Ticino region.

The transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, however, said the accident should not be used as a platform for political pressure. He cautioned that it would take several years to build another passage.

Moves are underway on the political stage to have an additional tunnel. Parliament last year came out in favour of extending the main road link, but a final decision depends on a change in the constitution and needs voters’ approval.

Motoring associations have also collected enough signatures for a people’s initiative aimed at upgrading Switzerland’s main motorways, including the road passage though the Gotthard. Some of the main political parties have already come out in support of the proposal, known as Avanti initiative.

Major traffic problems

The closure of the Gotthard tunnel is causing major traffic problems on the north-south route, particularly for freight haulers.

A second accident, on Thursday, outside the nearby San Bernardino tunnel, which serves a closest alternative to the Gotthard passage, forced the authorities to temporarily cut off Italy’s main road links to the north.

The Italian customs authorities also briefly closed the main border crossing into Switzerland at Chiasso, which led to long tailbacks on the Italian side of the border.

In response to the closure of the Gotthard road tunnel, the Swiss railways have boosted their services on the north-south rail route. They announced they had added more carriages to the regular trains and offered a special shuttle service for cars and lorries through the road tunnel.

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