Switzerland refuses French Alpine truck diversion

10th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

GENEVA, June 9 (AFP) - Switzerland has declined to act as a formal diversion for trucks crossing between France and Italy following the deadly blaze that shut down the Frejus road tunnel through the Alps last weekend, Swiss authorities said Thursday.

GENEVA, June 9 (AFP) - Switzerland has declined to act as a formal diversion for trucks crossing between France and Italy following the deadly blaze that shut down the Frejus road tunnel through the Alps last weekend, Swiss authorities said Thursday.  

A spokesman for the transport ministry's roads department said Bern had received an informal request from French authorities amid plans to recommend a diversion through two Alpine crossings in south-western Switzerland.  

"We refused because the request emerged purely from internal French political problems, that is the blockage of the Mont-Blanc tunnel by the population," the spokesman, Frederic Revaz told AFP.  

The 12.8 kilometre (eight miles) Frejus tunnel between France and Italy, one of three major road crossings between the two countries which is suitable for heavy trucks, was shut following a fire in a truck last Saturday.  

The blaze, which left two people dead, engulfed several vehicles and caused damage to the tunnel's lining which requires repair work.  

A sharp increase in traffic through an alternative route further north under the Mont-Blanc peak since then has prompted demonstrations by local people in the valley near the French town of Chamonix.  

Protestors briefly blocked the access road to the tunnel on the French side Wednesday amid safety and pollution fears.  

The Frejus tunnel carried an average of more than 3,600 trucks a day, and road freight accounts for a large proportion of goods trade between Italy and the rest of the European Union.  

French authorities have recommended another route into Italy further south along the Mediterranean coast.  

Revaz said nothing prevented trucks from using Swiss roads during the daytime.   

A general ban on truck traffic in Switzerland during the night will be maintained, he added, despite a request from the French road transport federation for it to be lifted while the Frejus tunnel is being repaired.  

Roadworks are already hampering traffic on roads that feed traffic into the two crossings between Switzerland and Italy, the Simplon Pass and the tunnel under the Great St Bernard mountain.  

Revaz said the French government had signalled it would raise the issue of the Frejus road tunnel at a meeting in Paris on June 16 of transport officials from major Alpine countries - Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.  

The meeting, which had been scheduled before the incident in the Frejus, is part of the "Zurich initiative", launched in 2001 to coordinate safety and traffic in Alpine tunnels.  

Last weekend's incident in the Frejus revived memories of a similar blaze that broke out in a truck in the 11.6 kilometre long (seven miles) Mont-Blanc tunnel in 1999, killing 39 people.  

The fire was one of the worst road disasters ever to take place in Europe and prompted heightened safety measures in tunnels throughout the continent.  

Alpine countries have also sought in the past decade to cut traffic and freeze road building in Europe's largest mountain range.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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