The National Freeway Bureau yesterday temporarily lowered the speed limit on southbound lanes in the Hsuehshan Tunnel to 80kph after a collision killed two people and injured 31 on Monday, adding that it would consider a permanent reduction in the speed limit inside the tunnel.
The bureau said the accident occurred when a small truck with a blown tire caused a large bus behind it to slam on the brakes. A small passenger car then ran into the bus after it was shunted by another bus and caught fire.
Traffic on the southbound lane did not reopen until 6:25am yesterday.
The speed limit inside the tunnel is currently 90kph, but drivers do not get fined unless they drive above 100kph.
The limit was raised from 80kph to 90kph in 2010 to allow an extra 200 vehicles to enter the tunnel each hour to alleviate congestion.
The bureau has decided to temporarily lower the speed limit in the tunnel’s southbound lanes because the lighting over a 100m stretch of the tunnel has been damaged by the fire.
Bureau chief engineer Wu Mu-fu (吳木富) said the bureau would consider permanently reducing the speed limit inside the tunnel to 80kph.
Wu said small passenger vehicles are required to keep a safe distance of 50m when driving inside the tunnel. Large passenger vehicles must maintain a safe distance of 70m.
“It would not be difficult to lower the speed limit back to 80kph,” Wu said. “However, one has to consider if the change would increase the number of drivers who do not maintain a safe distance between cars, as they are not allowed to switch lanes inside the tunnel.”
Wu said the bureau would work with freeway police to crack down on drivers who fail to observe the speed limit or maintain a safe distance between vehicles inside the tunnel.
Wu said the bureau would also enhance vehicle inspections at the Hsuehshan Tunnel Control Station and the Toucheng (頭城) Toll Collection Station, targeting vehicles with worn tires or carrying special items.
Following claims that the tunnel’s internal broadcast system, which informs drivers about accidents, was not activated until five minutes after Monday’s fire broke out, the bureau said surveillance tapes showed the fire occurred at 1:27pm and the internal broadcast system was activated at 1:28pm.
Meanwhile, National Freeway Bureau Director-General Tseng Dar-jen (曾大仁) said he would consider further lowering the speed limit to 70kph following a request by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Wang Ting-sheng (王廷生) and Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞).
Tseng defended the decision in 2010 to increase the speed limit inside the tunnel, saying the limit was set in accordance with safety regulations related to the tunnel design.
Commenting on the tragedy, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators said Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chih-kuo (毛治國) owed the public an explanation and should be held accountable.
Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津), co-convener of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said the committee would conduct an on-site inspection at the tunnel tomorrow.
Accompanied by DPP legislators Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲) and Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤), Yeh asked how Shang Hung Gardening (尚宏園藝有限公司), a gardening company, had managed to secure a three-year contract for fire control services in the tunnel from the bureau in 2010.
While the company is a licensed fire-equipment provider, Yeh said, that does not mean it has expertise on emergency disaster control, as evidenced on Monday.