On the scale of human tragedies in this part of the world, this one hardly registers.  Three people lost their lives when the driver of a semi smashed into three cars in the Burnley tunnel on Friday morning.  Two of the victims were young, one was a champion cyclist.  The third man to lose his life was in his early fifties.  He was from Essendon.

Imagining the prospect of perishing is difficult enough, but dying in a fiery crash in a dark tunnel ranks near the top of my list of fatality fears.  I have been through that tunnel several times.  On one occasion, when I forgot to bring along the address of our dinner engagement and didn’t realize it until the last minute, I managed to drive through that tunnel under the Yarra River three times within one hour.

Burnley is over three kilometers long.  It connects two major freeways east and west.  It carries 150,00 cars a day.  And trucks.  Don’t forget the trucks.  The conflagration that trapped Olympic cyclist Damian McDonald last Friday morning was triggered when a truck driver was forced to pull his semi into the left-hand lane because of a blown tire.  Three cars and two trucks collided when traffic tried to merge around the stopped semi.

There are no breakdown lanes or bays in the tunnel.  As the flames and smoke billowed out, drivers abandoned their cars and fled on foot. The closing of the tunnel created traffic chaos.  Hands are being wrung;  experts are being quoted in the local paper suggesting that the speed limits are too high and that the tunnel should have a breakdown lane.

I was surprised to see drivers changing lanes within the tunnel.  Try that in New York City and you get shot.   Burnley is supposed to reopen tomorrow, and a spokeswoman for the tunnel’s owner assures us it will be safe.  Nothing has changed.  How is that possible?

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