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Simulated rescue highlights dangers of tunnel transport

The Federal Railways are concerned about a lack of escape routes in the Gotthard tunnel

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland's emergency services have for the first time cooperated in a simulated rescue operation in the Gotthard tunnel, Europe's main transalpine north-south rail axis. The Federal Railways said the lack of escape routes in the tunnel were a cause for concern.

The operation comes in the wake of two major tunnel disasters - the Mont Blanc road tunnel in 1999 in which 39 people were killed, and another last November inside a funicular tunnel in the Austrian resort of Kaprun, which claimed the lives of 160 people.

The operation, codenamed "Granite", brought together some 200 police, firemen and rescue workers in the early hours of Monday morning.

Organisers said the aim of the drill was to discover how long it would take to evacuate a large number of wounded people following the derailment of a train inside the tunnel.

Hans Kaspar Dick, coordinator of the rescue operation, said the evacuation had been "relatively slow".

The simulated accident was staged at 1:25am on Monday morning with the derailment of a military convoy four kilometres from the tunnel entrance. This was followed by a short circuit of the electricity supply.

Rescue efforts hindered

A rescue train sent to reach those trapped inside the tunnel took more time than organisers had expected to reach the convoy.

"The train could only progress at a slow pace," Dick said at a press conference, following the rescue operation. "The reason was because nobody knew what the situation was at that moment inside the tunnel."

Officials admitted the narrow entrances at either end of the tunnel had hindered rescue efforts, while members of the evacuation team criticised the lack of an emergency escape route inside the tunnel.

The authorities are currently investigating a number of safety measures aimed at increasing security in the tunnel and facilitating the work of rescuers in the event of a real accident.

Emergency lighting is in the process of being installed, while a fire-fighting train is due to be put on permanent standby in Airolo, at the southern end of the tunnel.

The Gotthard is the main transalpine rail axis linking northern and southern Europe.

swissinfo with agencies


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