Some people think that tunnels are expensive and dangerous.  Here are the facts.

Tunnels exist in most countries of the world. The leading tunnel builders are:

Total KM No. of Tunnels Average Length As of Year
China 659 2.3 km 2011
Norway   865 952 0.9 km 2007
Japan   498 288 1.7 km 2010
Switzerland  403 468 0.9 km 2011
Germany   183 243 0.8 km 2006
Sweden 20 21 0.9 km 2006



Wikipedia’s list of the longest tunnels in the world ranks 200 that are at least 13 kilometres long,

The first three long tunnels were built in the 19th century; another 75 were added in the 20th, and since 2000, another 122 have come into service.  By the fall of 2015, an additional 28 mega-tunnels were under construction or in the late planning stages.  Clearly, many jurisdictions consider tunnels a prudent and economical way to move people and goods.

China leads the way with 68 of these big tunnels, South Korea has 25, and Japan 17, making these East Asian countries the world leaders, followed by Europe. World-wide, 36 countries have built mega-tunnels. At first, the majority were for water supply or railways, where gradients were important.  In recent years, increasing numbers have been built to serve highway traffic and rapid transit systems.

Norway’s 24.5-kilometre Laerdahl tunnel, opened in 2000, is now the world’s longest highway tunnel.  Prior to that, the longest was the St. Gotthard (16.9 km), in the Swiss Alps, built in 1980. Norway has 23 road tunnels longer than 7 km. The one proposed by the Third Crossing Society at Casement Mountain, is only 3.2.

For more information on these mega-tunnels, please see

To read about ‘World’s longest tunnel opens deep beneath Swiss Alps’, click here.

Tunnel Construction

A tunnel is created by boring, or by drilling and blasting – sometimes both.  At Casement Mountain, where the Society’s proposed 3.2 km tunnel would avoid about 18 kilometres of costly high elevation road construction and ongoing snow removal costs, geological analysis, based on test drilling, will determine whether the best option is boring, drilling or a combination of the two. Casement Mountain is mostly basalt, a hard, igneous rock.

Traditionally, British Columbia’s roads have followed its river valleys and mountain passes. This has limited our access to several desirable parts of the province. Certainly cost is a factor, but metre for metre, the cost of tunnelling is comparable to the cost of building a bridge. Given British Columbia’s mountainous terrain, it is difficult to understand why tunneling has not been a greater part of our road building culture.

Tunnel Safety

Today in Norway and many other countries, road tunnels are commonplace.  People drive them in the normal course of daily living, as routinely as they cross bridges.

Tunnel length is posted at the entrance, but there are no standby emergency vehicles or staffing. Shorter tunnels may be naturally ventilated and unlit; longer ones incorporate lighting and emergency telephones, ventilation becomes artificial and sophisticated, and escape routes are built in as and where standards require.

The Third Crossing Society asked several people who have travelled in Norway, Switzerland and Italy how they felt about driving through the tunnels they encountered. None expressed any qualms, even in tunnels of considerable length.

Note that the bars on the right of the following chart show that tunnel travel in Norway is twice as safe as road travel.

The following video takes you on a ride through the St. Gotthard tunnel that travels under the Alps and connects France and Italy .

The clip is sped up four to six times so you will traverse the entire 17 km in 3.5 minutes.  To return to our website simply refresh or click on the Menu bar at the top of the page.

Note the excellent lighting, traffic lights, ventilation and alcoves. Other safety devices include communication equipment, cameras, and sensors.




As we all know, accidents do happen, and when they happen in tunnels, it’s crucial that response be swift and effective.

A massive 2006 examination of tunnel safety in Norway by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that accidents in tunnels – whether in Norway or anywhere else – have an extremely low rate of occurrence, although, when response is not swift and effective, the consequences have at times been tragic, as in the four accidents described below, which happened between 1987 and 2001.

King’s Cross: Until 1987 there had never been a fatal fire in London’s tube system, but that year, someone in an elevator at the King’s Cross station lit a match, starting a fire that, because staff was unprepared, killed 31 and injuring another hundred.

Response: Perhaps because previous fires had always been dealt with quickly, the need for additional training had not been apparent. Smoking in the London tube was subsequently banned, staff received appropriate training in fire response, and numerous other preventative measures were implemented.

Mont Blanc: Twelve years later, in the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy, a truck carrying flour and margarine caught fire. In the past, truck fires (16 in all) had been extinguished by their drivers on the spot – but not this time. The alarm was sounded within two minutes, but staff response was slow due to lack of co-ordination between the tunnel’s two operating companies (one French and one Italian). The fire spread to other vehicles, consuming more and more oxygen, generating ever greater heat, and leading to the deaths of 38 people.

Response: The Mont Blanc tunnel was closed for three years while response procedures were improved and significant changes were made to the tunnel’s physical structure.

Tauern: That same year (1999) at a traffic light in the Tauern tunnel in Austria, a truck ran into stopped traffic causing the death of eight people.   Another four died in the ensuing fire, and 42 were injured.

Response: Several safety-oriented structural changes were made to this 21.5-kilometre tunnel.

St. Gotthard: In 2001, a truck collision in this tunnel (see video clip, above), not far from its southern teminus, led to a fire that generated heat measured at 1,000 degrees Celsius at the crash site. Eleven people perished, and many more were injured.

Response: St. Gotthard was closed for two months.

Important tunnel safety analysis was ordered after these tragic mishaps, and today, there is a much better understanding of the importance of:

  • Building safety measures into the design of longer tunnels that minimize the risk of accident;
  • Providing escape routes in case conditions in the tunnel after an accident become life threatening;
  • Ensuring that those responding after an accident are thoroughly trained to react swiftly and effectively.

As stated above, the Third Crossing Society realizes that as the industry now stands, tunneling is an expensive process, roughly comparable to bridge building. Further research is ongoing, and we expect there will be significant updates to this section as time goes on. We have established a liaison relationship with experts in the Norwegian tunneling industry, and will soon be consulting with staff at the Canadian Tunneling Association.

To read the details of the extensive studies of tunnel safety, please see the extensive OECD study and its bibliography.


Safety is always a major concern in highway construction, and B C is no exception.

Tunnels have the advantage of providing shorter routes and faster journey times and avoid narrow, winding roads over mountain passes where safety is often compromised by winter conditions.

The modern road tunnel is one of the safest means of travel in the world today.

This should be no surprise when one reflects upon the marvel of our own spiral rail tunnels, built so many years ago. However, it is fair to say that we do not live in a tunnel culture, even though tunneling is increasing, particularly in our rapid transit applications. Still we are mere beginners when compared to countries like Norway. Perhaps there is much to be learned by looking abroad.

Cost is often cited as an objection to tunnel building. We hasten to point out that tunneling and bridge building appear to have similar cost structures. We also note that Norway, one of the great tunnel building nations has 23 road tunnels longer than 7 km, and its population is similar to B C’s 4.4 million.