An independent safety report has raised serious concerns about motorist safety in the Dublin Port Tunnel. The report specifically raises concerns over an inability of tunnel authorities to communicate with significant numbers of motorists in the Tunnel in the event of a fire or serious emergency.
The report was commissioned by Dublin radio station, Radio NOVA, which is instigating High Court action against Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), operator of the Tunnel, on account of its broadcasts not being available in the 4.5km tunnel. The radio station commissioned the report from Consulting and Forensic Engineer Niallo Carroll in order to highlight what it describes as “serious, ongoing issues relating to limitations in the communication technology” in the Tunnel.
The report examines the practice used by TII to make FM radio services available in the Tunnel. Due to technology limitations, only 7 out of 14 commercial radio services in the Dublin area are carried. Those not carried include Radio NOVA, RTE 2FM, Classic Hits 4FM and Sunshine 106.8. Radio NOVA claims it is at disadvantage to its competitors such as Today FM, FM104 and 98FM by not being on the channel roster and has commenced proceedings against TII in order to force the state body to deal with the issue. The radio station has claimed the restriction is in breach of EU competition regulations and the 2002 Competition Act and is “inherently unfair and damaging” to its business.
The report is a detailed, independent analysis of all methods used by TII to communicate with motorists in the Tunnel. The Tunnel is used by 15,000 vehicles per day.
Tunnel authorities can ‘break in’ over FM radio services in the event of emergency. However, NOVA points out that up to 30% of motorists listen to radio services not carried in the Tunnel and that these listeners would not hear safety announcements broadcast by tunnel authorities in the event of a fire or major emergency.
In the report, Carroll claims that the limitation on the number of rebroadcast channels is a failure by TII and Dublin Port Tunnel to comply fully with the spirit of the European Directive 2004/54/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. He further states that the safety of tunnel users is being adversely affected by technical limitations and describes where significant loss of life has occurred in past tunnel disasters as a result of the inability of authorities to communicate directly with motorists. In a risk analysis, he outlines how the current communication channels employed by TII – variable message boards, public address system and emergency telephones – may not be sufficient to warn motorists of a fire or serious hazard. In such a case, using the FM ‘break-in’ option would not be effective as up to 30% of motorists would not be listening to the limited array of radio channels provided in the Tunnel.
The report continues:
The EU directive lays out the minimum safety standard for tunnels in Europe and was devised after a Europe-wide review of tunnel safety after the Mont Blanc and Tauern tunnel disasters, which occurred in March and May of 1999 and resulted in the loss of 39 and 12 lives respectively.
The Mont Blanc fire occurred in the middle of a transalpine tunnel between France and Italy when a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) caught fire. There were 39 casualties. 29 of the 39 victims were found in or close to their vehicles. Not realising the danger they were in and not appreciating the severity or proximity of the hazard, many tunnel users remained in what appeared to be the relative safety of their vehicles and were overcome by the toxicity of the fumes and smoke from the fire. A key lesson learned from the Mont Blanc and Tauern disasters was the need to inform tunnel users of the safest behaviour in the event of a fire or other hazards. The importance of ‘self-evacuation’ was highlighted in accident investigations of subsequent tunnel disasters. Accident investigators of the fire which occurred in the St. Gotthard alpine tunnel in Switzerland in 2001 estimated that the victims in the fire were trapped by smoke within 6 minutes and were dead within 12 minutes of the start of the fire. This is a shorter time span than that which the emergency services can response to such disasters.
Accident reports from other tunnel incidents emphasise the importance of self-evacuation as the single biggest factor in reducing the consequences of an accident once a fire has ignited. Early and effective communication with tunnel users is a vital safety control due to the speed with which tunnel hazards can escalate, the importance of early self-evacuation and the need to communicate directly with tunnel users to initiate self-evacuation.
Carroll continues: “Even the most basic of risk analysis will highlight the risk to the safety of tunnel users as a result of the limitations of the rebroadcast system”.
In the event of activation of the FM break-in feature to broadcast emergency announcements instructing tunnel users to self-evacuate, some tunnel users would not receive these announcements as they would not be tuned to one of the limited number of FM stations rebroadcast. The consequences of this partial systems failure is the potential delay in the initiation of the evacuation process and an increased risk to tunnel users.
Carroll further states that “an upgrade to the in-tunnel communications system to enable safety messages to be broadcast on all licenced FM stations available in the area would increase the effectiveness of required for safety and reduce the hazard”. He points out that the cost of upgrade would be relatively modest.
Kevin Branigan, CEO of Radio NOVA said, “This report shows that we are not alone in our concerns about in communication limitations in the Tunnel. It highlights serious safety concerns for motorists, up to 30% of which cannot hear safety announcements as they’re not listening to one of only seven radio services rebroadcast by TII. We’ve been asking them to rectify this serious issue for five years, not only on safety grounds but also because they’re distorting radio listenership habits for tens of thousands of commuters. They have rebuffed all of our entreaties. TII have conceded to us that their technology has limitations. They have also stated that the safety of motorists is their primary concern but they have no plans to address this. It’s staggering that the operator of a major thoroughfare in the middle of the capital city of Ireland is unable to communicate with up to 30% of motorists and are not concerned about it”.
It was reported extensively in December that NOVA was preparing High Court action against Transport Infrastructure Ireland on account of TII’s refusal to include in in the line-up of radio channels available in the tunnel, claiming that it was suffering loss and damage as a result of rival stations being available. In January it was announced that two other radio operators, Classic Hits 4FM and Sunshine 106.8 were to join NOVA’s action. NOVA also invited RTE 2FM to join its action as the national broadcaster is similarly not included on the channel line-up.
NOVA now intends to forward the independent report to the National Roads Authority (NRA), the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport and the EU Transport Safety Council and the European Commission and continue with its forthcoming High Court action on the issue.
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1. Niallo Carroll is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer with over 25 years of experience in industry at senior management and board level. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA from Trinity College Dublin, a Diploma in Engineering Computation (D.I.T.) and is a Fellow of the Advanced Study Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has qualifications in Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare from UCD and in Road Traffic Accident Investigation from North Western University Center for Public Safety, Illinois. He has worked internationally in Japan, US, Russia and India as well as Ireland, directing manufacturing operations, managing product development programmes, ensuring safety and regulatory compliance and implementing Lean Systems in a wide variety of environments
2. Radio NOVA broadcasts to Dublin city, county and commuter belt. The most recent JNLR ratings give the station 148,000 listeners with a 3.8% share of all radio listening in the area. * The station is backed by Vienna Investments, Bay Broadcasting, Pat McDonagh and Des Whelan.
3. Only 7 out of 14 FM radio services in the Dublin area are carried in Dublin Port Tunnel
RTE Radio 1
Services not carried
RTE Lyric FM
Classic Hits 4FM
4. EU Directive 2005/54/EC: http://www.sustainable-design.ie/fire/EU-Directive-2004-54_Road-Tunnel-Safety.pdf
* JNLR/Ipsos MRBI JNLR 2015/4. Weekly Listenership & Market Share (7am-7pm), Dublin Commuter Belt