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Cars and Transportation

Swiss tunnel fire causes record traffic jam

May 20, 2018

Passengers on a German tour bus had a lucky escape after their vehicle was incinerated in a Swiss tunnel. Travelers on the holiday weekend, however, had to endure the longest traffic jam in 19 years.

Burnt out tour bus in the San Bernardino Tunnel
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/G. Ehrenzeller

A German tour bus caught fire inside the San Bernardino Tunnel on Saturday, causing Switzerland's biggest traffic jam in 19 years.

The incident brought back memories of the 2001 Gotthard Tunnel blaze, which killed 11 people.

Read more: German traffic jams piled on misery for drivers in 2017

People had to wait up to five hours in the traffic jam
Image: picture-alliance/KEYSTONE/A. Wey

Longest in 19 years

  • A Bavarian tour bus stopped about 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the tunnel exit on Friday after the driver saw smoke coming from the engine, police said.
  • The bus, carrying 22 passengers, was completely incinerated and the fire brigade initially had to withdraw due to intense heat, Blick newspaper reported.
  • Passengers from the bus and nearby vehicles were able to flee, despite the dense smoke. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation.
  • With the San Bernardino Tunnel blocked, drivers diverted to the Gotthard Tunnel, causing a 28-kilometer (17.4-mile) traffic jam on Saturday.
  • A breakdown in the Gotthard Tunnel further exacerbated the issue.
  • South-bound travelers waited up to five hours to make their way through the Alpine pass.

Long weekend: Traffic is particularly heavy anyway due to the Pentecost long weekend, a major spring travel period for Europe.

Mole people: The Swiss are prolific tunnel builders and are particularly sensitive to their dangers after the 2001 Gotthard disaster, which killed 11 people. Tunnel fires are particularly dangerous due to their confined space; in 1999 38 people perished in the Mont Blanc Tunnel between France and Italy.

Read more: The security features of the Mont Blanc Tunnel

Major link: The San Bernardino Tunnel connects eastern Switzerland with the southern side of the Alps in Ticino, allowing time-pressed travelers to avoid the 2,000-meter San Bernardino Pass, which is closed in winter.

No end in sight: The San Bernardino Tunnel will remain closed for at least another week due to heavy damage, local media reported. Long traffic jams through the Gotthard Tunnel are expected to continue.

Switzerland: The new Gotthard Base Tunnel

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