Opinion please – Innovation is the magic word

Just twelve hours after the tunnels of the A73 freeway near the city of Roermond where officially opened, they had to be closed again because a truck got stuck.

Originally the tunnels were due to open on 1 January 2008, but it took two and a half years instead of six months to build them. The tunnels had to become the safest in Europe, and it was the strict safety regulations that apparently caused the long delay.

Over the past year the tunnels have opened intermittently. But even when opened, traffic could only use half of the lanes and had to travel at reduced speeds. Most of the time the tunnels were closed because of various safety apparatus, such as fire alarms, didn’t work properly. Some alarms tended to go off without reason.

In the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, the alderman of economic affairs for Roermond is quoted as saying that Rijkswaterstaat (the national water and transport agency) installed fifty million euro worth of equipment in the tunnels, which it then removed and replaced with other equipment, spending another thirty million euro.

Tunnel expert, Kees Blom (faculty Civil Engineering & Geosciences), isn’t very surprised about all the safety measures: “After the tunnel disasters that we’ve witnessed in recent years, it’s not surprising that the government wanted to make a super safe tunnel.” Among the tunnel disasters he alludes to are the fire in an ascending railway car in the Kaprun tunnel in Austria (2000), and the 1999 fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel. “It’s the new policy to exclude all possible risks,” Blom says.

According to Dr Vincent Marchau (faculty of Technology, Policy and Management), the problem here is that innovation, not safety, becomes a goal in itself: “Saying you use the most innovative technology is a good way to sell your ideas. Innovation is the magic word.

“The same will happen with road pricing,” Marchau continues. “In London they use cameras that scan vehicle number plates. It’s very simple. But here we want to install gps receivers in all vehicles so that all movements can be registered. I’m sure it will go wrong.”

The problems in the tunnel are not isolated. Are the Dutch generally too ambitious? A few years ago a new radar-based technology was introduced that was to help ships enter the Port of Rotterdam. It failed. The high-speed rail connection between Holland and Belgium endures endless setbacks because the ERTMS safety system that Holland invested in does not seem to work properly.

Should Holland make use only of proven technologies from now on? “It’s true that sometimes we aim to high”, says Marchau’s colleague, Professor Bert van Wee. “But we should continue to develop new technologies. Many things are successful. Take for instance the chip card for public transport. It works fine. Yet a lot of people complained about this technology in the beginning. Part of the problem in Europe is that people are intolerant when it comes to minor flaws in new technologies. People want technologies to be perfect right away.”

Van het thema was in de aankleding op het door studievereniging Leonardo da Vinci georganiseerde feest overigens weinig te merken. Maar dat mocht de pret niet drukken.

Op de foto genieten twee studentes zichtbaar van de muziek in de stampvolle ‘Libre’-zaal. Later op de avond mocht het publiek nog dansen op de ‘deep and funky house sound’ van dj’s Sunnery James & Marciano.

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