Fire in a tunnel is one of the most dangerous traffic situations

Mock-up fire tests new railway emergency system

Spanish engineers will set alight a rail tunnel in Alicante today to test a new emergency management system.

The system, developed as a part of the Firetunnel project, has already been tested in a laboratory and the team believes it will facilitate evacuation of passengers and staff in case of railway fire accidents.

"Our project will improve the efficiency of emergency plans making staff’s work easier and helping to reduce the number of victims as evacuations will be more effective," said Teresa Real, researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain, one of the institutions developing the system.

The system consists of four closely interconnected subsystems - a fire-detection, anti-propagation, ventilation and information sub-system. The first sub-system, capable of detecting and locating fire throughout the length of the tunnel sends information to the anti-spread, ventilation and information subsystems, which then respond accordingly.

The anti-propagation subsystem activates the unfolding of a flameproof fabric on either side of the fire to prevent it from spreading, whilst leaving an opening in the top to allow a controlled expulsion of the smoke from the upper layers and avoid it mixing with the clean air from the lower layers.

The ventilation system kicks in in this moment, expelling the smoke from the tunnel. "This system is designed to expel it as fast as possible so as to prevent it from cooling and mixing with clean air," Real said.

Finally, the information subsystem starts flashing warning messages along the tunnel indicating the fastest and safest evacuation route.

The mock-up fire will take place in the Serra Grossa tunnel in Alicante, verifying correct functioning of the whole system. The exercise will be closely monitored by Alicante’s firefighters and the city’s Department of Safety.

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