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The Huguenot Tunnel turns 25 this week.

issued by
19 March 2013


The South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited (SANRAL) yesterday celebrated the 25th anniversary of the iconic Huguenot Tunnel on the N1 National Road in the Western Cape.

Opened in March 1988, the story of the Huguenot tunnel stretches back to the previous century, and the need to cross the daunting Du Toitskloof Mountains. The earliest route was the Bainskloof Pass built in the mid 1800s. It was however, an arduous route and as long ago as the 1930ís a tunnel through the Du Toitskloof mountains had been conceived. After interruptions to the tunnel plans by World War 2, the old Du Toitskloof pass was constructed between 1942 and 1948 by Italian Prisoners of War.

But the tortuous pass became overburdened with traffic and by 1973 plans had begun to formulate again to a build a tunnel to pass through the mountains.

When construction began in 1984, it was undertaken in two phases. First a pilot tunnel was bored into the granite mountain. Obstacles encountered included water in the decayed rock just a short way into the tunnelling process. The main bore then excavated the 5m horseshoe tunnel and support portals, tunnels, drainage and ventilation to be built. The various challenges were overcome and the 3,9km long tunnel was opened on 18 March 1988 which is 11km shorter than the route across the pass.

The new tunnel offered road users a substantial saving in time, approximately 15 minutes for a light vehicle and 26 minutes for heavy goods vehicles. During the 25 years since itís opening, the 75 million vehicles that have passed through the tunnel have saved a conservative total of 13 million hours, and fuel equivalent to 4 million barrels of crude oil. The fuel savings alone have amounted to more than 870 Million Rands.

Safety of road users is one of SANRALís cornerstone principles, and to that end all measures are taken to ensure motorists travel with peace of mind.

From the moment drivers enter the tunnel, the first safety feature they encounter is lighting to compensate for the sudden plunge from bright sunlight into the tunnel.

SANRAL monitors safety and traffic flow in the tunnel by means of 34 cameras feeding into an automated incident management system, with alarms for stopped vehicles, fast and slow-moving traffic, traffic queues and wrong way driving. The tunnel is also permanently manned, fully lit 24 hours per day, and a powerful air conditioning system works constantly to eliminate emissions and retain high levels of air quality.

Though there have been incidents of fire in the tunnel, only one fatality was recorded in 1994. Recent tunnel fires in Europe have heightened awareness of potential dangers and SANRAL has responded by increasing safety measures.

Fire sensors placed at 24m intervals detect rises in temperature. If 2 sensors detect a rise, the Paarl Fire Department is dispatched automatically, and operators alerted. If required, a fully equipped fire tender is ready for deployment from the Western Portal of the tunnel, offering rapid response to any incident.

The tunnel experienced its highest volumes in 2002 with a record of 18,200 vehicles using the tunnel on 26 April that year. Traffic volumes have increased at an average of 3% per annum over the 25 years, an assuming that they continue to do so the Huguenot Tunnel will begin to reach capacity within 2 to 3 years.

As a result of the growing usage, SANRAL has planned to upgrade the tunnel system, opening a second tunnel and allowing for two separate passages with traffic in only one direction in each.

The Huguenot Tunnel will continue to grow and be a part of the fabric of travelersí lives in the Western Cape, with an unforgettable spectacle as they exit this iconic tunnel and the beautiful scenery of the region welcomes them.

Issued by the South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited

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