Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) yesterday said the ministry would take a series of measures to enhance driver safety inside the Hsuehshan Tunnel on Chiang Wei-shui Memorial Freeway (Freeway No. 5) after a deadly fire broke out there on Monday.
The accident, in which two people died and 31 were injured, was the most serious since the tunnel was opened in 2006.
The measures were presented to lawmakers serving on the legislature’s Transportation Committee who visited the tunnel’s control center in Pinglin District (坪林) New Taipei City (新北市).
Mao said the heavy smoke generated by the fire had entered the tunnel’s cross passageway, in which people are supposed to be able to take shelter in an emergency, because once the door to the cross passageway was opened, it could not be closed again automatically.
“The door is equipped with a device that allows people to prop the door open until the device is released,” Mao said. “We will these devices and install automatic doors and this replacement is scheduled to be completed within two weeks.”
Mao said the ministry would also consider installing an alarm system on the doors to ensure that they can be shut in an emergency.
Meanwhile, the Directorate-General of Highways will soon hold training sessions for bus drivers who regularly drive on Freeway No. 5, Mao said.
In addition to being trained on how to help passengers escape during emergencies, the drivers will also be required to inform passengers of the locations of emergency exits before departure.
Also, the freeway police will pay special attention to large passenger buses inside the tunnel, he said.
In a related development, environmentalists yesterday urged the government to reconsider the Suhua Highway Improvement Project, which secured approval from the environmental impact assessment committee last year.
They said the new route proposed by the Directorate-General of Highways had four tunnels that exceeded 3km in length. The two tunnels between Nanao (南澳) in Yilan County and Heping (和平) in Hualien County have a combined length of 12.5km, about the same length as the Hsuehshan Tunnel.
The Hsuehshan Tunnel fire showed that the nation does not have the capacity to react in a timely manner to disasters in long tunnels, environmentalists said.