With the commissioning of the second Tyne Tunnel for use by traffic, Tyne and Wear emergency services put the tunnel's safety systems to the test on February 12, 2011, with a full scale mock emergency incident.
The 1.5km long vehicle tunnel, built as part of the £260million New Tyne Crossing project, was the site of an emergency exercise designed to thoroughly test the operating and automated emergency response systems before traffic is switched into the tunnel later in February.
Peter Hedley, the Tyne Tunnels Manager, said: "One of the most exciting features in the new tunnel is a state-of-the-art mist system. This is the first road tunnel in the UK to boast a fixed fire suppression system, making it the safest in the county. Thankfully emergency incidents are pretty rare at the Tyne Tunnels, but it has been fantastic today to see just what a difference this makes to the way we could respond to emergencies."
Paul Fenwick, Project Director for the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, the New Tyne Crossing project promoter, said: "We sincerely hope an incident like this will never occur at the Tyne Tunnels but we do of course need to be prepared for worst case scenarios.
"As part of the New Tyne Crossing project we've been working very closely with the Tyne and Wear emergency services for a number of years to design safety into the crossing. The success of the coordinated response at today's exercise has been a tribute to that careful planning."
Tyneand Wear Fire Service, Northumbria Police, North East Ambulance Service and the Hazard Area Response Team were all in attendance at the event held February 12.
Group Manager Phil Clark, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said: "For many years Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has promoted the use of sprinklers to protect people from fire in homes and commercial buildings. Through working together with TT2, TWITA and Bouygues, we have changed both national and international opinion as to the benefits of using sprinklers in tunnels.
"Fighting fires in tunnels is one of the most difficult types of incident for the fire service to deal with, due to the heat produced and the lack of access to the fire. The activation of the fire suppression system means that the size of the fire likely to be dealt with is much smaller. This means it is safer for the people using the tunnel and the firefighters. It also means that disruption to tunnel users is minimised.
"The training exercise was an opportunity for all of the emergency services to test their responses, so that in the unlikely event of an incident occurring in the tunnel we are all equipped and prepared to deal with it safely and in a coordinated manner."
The safety features fitted into the new vehicle tunnel by design and build contractor Bouygues Travaux Publics UK include a dedicated, separate pedestrian escape passage, an integrated incident monitoring and alert system, as well as the fixed fire suppression system.
In the case of fire in the tunnel, the fixed fire suppression system would generate a mist sufficient to stop a fire from spreading, enabling people to safely escape tunnel until the fire service arrives to extinguish the flames. The system not only saves lives but also protects the tunnel structure from fire damage, enabling the tunnel to reopen more quickly after an incident.
Project Managing Director for Bouygues Travaux Publics UK, Nicolas Caille, said: "We have worked with specialists in the field to install these features, so that north east motorists can enjoy a safer driving experience. People might assume that the civil engineering works involved in building the new tunnel have been the most challenging aspect of the project, but installing the mechanical and electrical features has been equally demanding thanks to the bespoke nature of the systems."
Trevor Jackson, Managing Director for TT2, the New Tyne Crossing Concessionaire, said: "I would like to express my sincere thanks to the emergency services and the Tyne and Wear Emergency Planning Unit for their support today, and for their work behind the scenes to help us build the safest tunnel in the UK. Today's exercise has been an essential part of the commissioning process for the new tunnel. We are almost ready to give our customers the smartest, safest river crossing the Tyne has ever seen."
Date posted: 17.02.11