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PS200 bill after Tunnel fire ordeal; driver hits out over response to vehicle incident.

Byline: IAN JOHNSON Reporter jan.johnson01@reachplc.com

A DRIVER whose car caught fire inside the Tyne Tunnel has been told she must pay for the fire extinguishers used to put the flames out.

Claustrophobic Christie Walker suffered a panic attack as smoke engulfed her silver Vauxhall Corsa, after it broke down last Thursday afternoon.

Now, not only is the car a likely write-off, her misery has been compounded after Tyne Tunnel operator TT2 sent her a PS200 breakdown bill - including a PS100 fee for the fire extinguishers.

TT2 insists such charges are "commonplace".

However, Christie said: "I kind of expected to pay the fine, as I know what the Tyne Tunnel is like and people get fined all the time.

"But afterwards you think, 'This is tacking the mick.'" Previously, drivers have criticised TT2 for the controversial 'pay later' system which has seen thousands of motorists fined - with some facing court and debt collectors - over an unpaid toll.

Thursday's fire, which Christie said was caused by a suspected electrical fault, forced bosses to close the tunnel down rush hour, causing traffic tailbacks.

"I was just driving home from work and I could see smoke coming from inside my car, and I just panicked like mad," added the 28-year-old, from North Shields.

"I put my hazard lights on and slowed down, but the smoke was really bad."

She left her car and dashed to a nearby emergency phone to report the breakdown. Unable to open it, she suffered a panic attack.

"I just thought, 'What if my car blew up?' In that situation, you just start fearing the worst," she said.

After nobody answered, a passing stranger came to her aid, driving her to the reception area - and even paying her PS1.90 toll - before offering to stay and support her.

Another Good Samaritan - who was behind her - has since made contact through Facebook and offered her a car he was getting rid of.

Christie, who works at South Tyneside College, said the response on social media had been "overwhelming".

"I've had so many nice messages from total strangers, which is lovely. It is a positive thing that restores your faith following a really bad situation," she said.

However, while the kindness of strangers has lifted her mood, she's been left feeling "gutted and deflated" by TT2's response to her situation.

"I just feel like another person who has used their tunnel who they have seen as a chance to make a bit more money out of," added Christie.

A TT2 spokesperson said: "Charges for vehicles that break down and require support are commonplace throughout the road networks.

"TT2 operates in the same way [as others with] the costs incurred by TT2 for recovery of a vehicle requested from the driver. The PS200 cost includes the replacement of two fire extinguishers that were used to stop the spread of the fire."

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Author:IAN JOHNSON Reporter jan.johnson01@reachplc.com
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 14, 2021
Words:477
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