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City gridlock as vital road link forced to close again

THE SAFETY technology in the €751m Dublin Port Tunnel is set to be replaced at a cost of several million euro after it failed, causing traffic chaos yesterday.

The Irish Independent has also learned that the National Roads Authority (NRA) carried out a comprehensive audit of safety procedures in the tunnel just days before the closure.

The five-day review on all aspects of tunnel safety only ended on Tuesday, just 24 hours before the tunnel was forced to close.

The shutdown happened after the Scada safety system -- responsible for height detection of vehicles, fire suppression mechanisms, closed circuit television and emergency lighting -- collapsed yesterday.

The Irish Independent has learned the cost of replacing the safety system will run into several million euro.

It has also learned that staff at Transroute -- the company with the contract to run the tunnel -- were told last week they could be interviewed as part of the safety audit, that documents would be inspected, and senior NRA executives would observe how the tunnel was managed.

An internal memo seen by the Irish Independent says: "We have been informed that the NRA, as administrative authority of the Dublin Port Tunnel, intends to carry out an assessment of all aspects of tunnel safety, commencing Friday, February 22 until Tuesday, February 26. This assessment will involve interviews with members of staff, inspection of documents, and observation of operation. In this context you may be called to participate in an interview during the above period. The interviews will be focused and limited to issues relating to tunnel safety and your role and responsibilities in this regard."

The NRA admitted last night it had "serious concerns" about both the "durability and reliability" of the Scada safety system.

There was no guarantee that a similar shutdown would not happen again, a spokesman last last night.

However, an NRA spokesman said it had been appointed an official tunnel inspector by the EU and the timing of the safety audit and shutdown was purely coincidental.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said last night he was concerned at the frequency of recent port tunnel closures.

He has instructed the NRA to immediately address the cause of the closure to avoid further inconvenience to motorists.

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Mr Dempsey said he has also instructed the NRA to pursue the contractor for remedies so that there is no loss to the taxpayer.

Because the Port Tunnel is still under warranty, the authority will be asking the contractor to pick up the tab for the work.

The tunnel closed yesterday at 10.15am and the northbound lane towards Dublin Airport only re-opened just before 7pm.

The Scada system, which operates as the "eyes, ears, nose and throat" of the tunnel's safety mechanism, was fully down and being examined by technicians

The heavy goods vehicle ban in the city centre was lifted to help with the transit of trucks around the city.

An NRA spokesman described the shutdown as "an emergency situation".

He said the technology would be replaced or repaired "piece by piece" to avoid similar shutdowns at peak travel times.

"Taxpayers will not have to pay for this," he said.

Tunnel troubles: Leaky, low and too costly by half

- Leaks: In the summer of 2006, it was reported that the tunnel was leaking. Concrete barriers and waterproof membranes had to be re-installed.

- Height controversy: Even before construction, critics said the tunnel was too low to accommodate "super trucks" (higher than 4.65 metres), and that the tunnel roof height should be increased to 5.5 metres. The Government refused a redesign and said super trucks would be banned from Irish roads. That ban has yet to be implemented.

- Cost overruns: Originally estimated to cost €450m, the eventual bill hit €752m.

- Tiles: Lightweight roof tiles have fallen onto the roadway.

- Damage to houses: Properties in the Marino area were damaged during tunnelling, with 334 compensation claims made.

- Tankers: Despite assurances they could use it, Dublin Fire Brigade advised that petrol tankers be removed from the tunnel amid safety fears.


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