Keywords: safety, railway tunnels, accidents, fire fighting, emergency response
Emergency response possibilities at freight railway tunnel accidents
Recent tunnel disasters in several Western European countries such as Switzerland (Gotthard tunnel, 2001) and Austria (Tauern tunnel, 1999), France/Italy (Mont Blanc tunnel, 1999) and Great Britain/France (Channel Tunnel, 1996) have made tunnel safety an area for special attention. In-depth investigations into these accidents focused on individual aspects of tunnel design and hazards. As regards the latter, major issues concerned the possibilities of emergency response activities to reduce the number of victims or the amount of damage. However, an integral assessment of the hazards in their consequences for emergency response is lacking. This paper gives this integral assessment for freight railway tunnels and makes clear which hazards are most critical for emergency response activities. In the Netherlands, a new freight railway line is being built comprising six tunnels in soft soil. The purpose of this paper is to identify emergency response possibilities in freight railway tunnels, regardless of self-rescue assumptions. For railway tunnels exclusively for freight, a three-way research approach was followed to reveal the emergency response possibilities for tunnel accidents. Case studies, expert interviews and physical modelling of fires, and the firefighting process revealed that emergency response possibilities for rescue operations in tunnels are extremely limited: at the moment when firefighting teams arrive at the accident site in the tunnel, the physical conditions like sight and temperature have already deteriorated in such a way that an effective rescue operation is full of risks and hardly anything can be gained from intervention. This result is important for both tunnel designers and emergency responders: tunnel designers should reconsider their tunnel design principles and emergency responders should reconsider their tunnel accident strategies and equipment.