Highway chiefs will inject more than GBP 8M (USD 11.6M) into the Dartford Crossing to improve its safety. The money will be used for a sprinkler system in both tunnels, designed to keep a fire under control during the wait for the emergency services to arrive.

The upgrade was awarded to tunnel safety specialists Fogtec Brandschutz. It is estimated to cost GBP 8.1M (USD 11.8M), will start in October this year and is due to finish in 2012. It will be similar to fire detection systems installed in the Channel Tunnel following a large blaze there in September 2008.

Project manager for the Highways Agency Paul Harding said, “Fortunately, fires in tunnels are very rare, but improved safety in the Dartford River Crossing tunnels, along with all our road, remains a priority.”

“The Dartford tunnels are currently safe, and the fire suppression system will provide even greater protection for road users, our maintenance staff and emergency service staff should a fire occur,” Harding continued.

The improvements were prompted by an EU tunnel safety directive brought in following the deaths of 39 people in France’s Mont Blanc Tunnel in 1999, as well as a blaze in a funicular train tunnel in the Austrian ski resort of Kaprun in 2000 which killed 155 people.