Download PDF version
There is a range of active fire suppression solutions available such as sprinklers, standpipes and hydrants
Railway tunnel fires can be more dangerous to life than road tunnel blazes

Fire prevention is the single most important issue for railway tunnel fires safety. The potential consequences of fire, both materially and in human life often exceed road tunnels accidents. While the technology and solutions are available to reduce incidences of serious situations, the issue and danger still remains. The question is how we can manage it effectively.

Ali Aleali, of fire detection solutions providers FireVu, looks at the issues.

It is 20 years ago today, as I write this article, that the Channel Tunnel opened.

In the past two decades it has experienced several incidents of fire, three of which were notable and caused substantial damage. The most serious, the 2008 fire, resulted in £60 million worth of repairs being undertaken and 6 month’s disruption to services that cost Eurotunnel an estimated £185m in lost revenue. The 2008 fire does not stand out as a particularly large or destructive fire despite the costs cited.

The Channel Tunnel fires do press the point though that even new state of the art tunnels are not immune from the threat and occurrence of serious fires.

Railway tunnel fires can be more dangerous to life than road tunnel blazes, providing generally less favourable opportunities for escape than road tunnels. The smaller cross section of a railway tunnel leads to a more rapid spread of fire, stronger convective heating and a lower smoke stratification that rapidly affects breathing and visibility.

These factors came into tragic play at the funicular railway at Kaprun in 2000, where 155 passengers lost their lives. The ventilation rapidly pushed through toxic smoke that overwhelmed passengers in a matter of a few minutes.

Improving safety in railway tunnels

There have undoubtedly been improvements in railway fire prevention measures and action in the past decade.

Passenger trains are generally less combustible, with lower heat release rates from passenger rolling stock specifications. In the 7/7 bombings on London Underground the trains smoulded rather than burned and the loss of life was not due or exacerbated by flammable materials in the carriages.

Passenger trains are generally less combustible, with lower heat release rates from passenger rolling stock specifications
Passive fire prevention can minimise fire damage to infrastructure

Goods trains have also benefited from measures to reduce incidences of fire such as the compartmentalisation of wagons, the control of combustible material and fixed fire suppression. And the implementation of regular fire drill test procedures has improved fire safety levels for both goods and passenger trains.

However, the very nature of tunnel fires and the loads being carried ensures that the issue will never be eliminated and we cannot be complacent.

Passive fire prevention can minimise fire damage to infrastructure, with options ranging across micro mono-filament polypropylene fibres added to the concrete mix of wall linings, fire resistant panels and cementitious coatings.

There is a range of active fire suppression solutions available such as sprinklers, standpipes and hydrants, water curtains and water mist that can be combined to passive fire prevention measures.

Underpinning the active suppression is fire detection technology, with solutions such as video smoke detection triggering the key systems.

Legislation and railway tunnels

In April 2014, EU Directive 2004/54/EC came into effect for road tunnels for all 28 EU member states, an area with a population of over 500 million that generates 20% of global wealth.

In terms of fire detection monitoring, the new directive means systems need to be implemented for tunnels over 500m long, with video detection systems being mandatory for tunnels longer than 3,000m.

The same uniform regulations do not exist for rail tunnels despite the dangers outlined above.

The NFPA 130 does not cover the issues of fire safety in tunnels. The EU’s technical standard “Safety in Railway Tunnels” is a framework standard rather than a specification.

Research and the identification of suitable regulations continue to be pursued by The International Tunnelling Association’s Committee on Operational Safety of Underground Facilities.

Global or indeed European wide railway tunnel safety regulations are not shared.

It all boils down to a need for a co-ordinated approach, as shown for road tunnels, for railways.

Railway fires, thankfully, are not everyday events. Yet, there impact on life and property can be immense and therefore measures have to be considered against the potential affects of a fire. Isn’t it time that fire detection and prevention for railway tunnels is not one of chance?

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command
How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command

Drones give Incident Commanders an aerial view, increasing their situational awareness of fires and helping them to develop tactics to tackle them. Station Officer Lee Newman details how the technology was implemented by London Fire Brigade and the continued benefits. Identify external risks The Grenfell Tower fire has resulted in revisions to several operational procedures and the introduction of new equipment within the Brigade. A few months after the fire, the Brigade was tasked with setting up a trial to test the feasibility of having a drone capability to identify external risks and assess building stability at incidents, providing essential safety information that could facilitate ongoing internal firefighting operations. Implement the use of drones The Brigade implemented the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 Working with partners who had an existing drone capability, as well as drone experts, the Brigade began work to implement the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 as a trainer and reserve drone. In the summer of 2018, an Emergency Services bespoke course was run by Essex Police to train the Brigade’s team of drone pilots, who were all PfCO qualified within one week. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational. Working of the drones On its first day of being available for incidents, the team received an order to attend a 15-pump fire at a leisure center, which was under renovation. They were asked to confirm if there were cylinders on the roof of the building and immediately put the drone to use. The team flew and relayed the camera footage onto a large screen that was fitted into a van provided for the trial. The drone footage was able to identify, to the Incident Commander’s satisfaction, that the cylinders were actually rolls of asphalt due to be laid on the roof as part of the renovation. If the drone concept could have proven its use in one job, this was it. The information from the drone allowed the Incident Commander to decide not to make it ‘cylinders confirmed’ and saved a lot of unnecessary extra appliance movements. Applications of drone Since that first callout, the team has been to around 300 incidents of six pumps or more, including persons in the water, fires, and various missing people’s incidents both in London and into other counties, assisting police forces. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational Drone inventory The Brigade’s drone capability inventory includes a Matrice 300 with an H20T dual thermal and optical camera; a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual with multi attachments; a Mavic Air 2 and a Yuneec 520. The Brigade also has a Teradek live streaming device and multiple tablets for receiving the streamed footage. The Brigade operates with two Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs – plug-in hybrid SUVs – and has split the drone equipment into two, with one vehicle carrying the drone and batteries, and the other carrying all the support kit and ancillaries. Working in dark conditions The drones are permitted to fly up to 400 ft above ground level or higher in an emergency and can fly as fast as 50 mph. They also can act as a loudspeaker to give instructions or reassurance and shine a bright spotlight in dark or low light conditions. 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service. The team is working closely with its blue light partners, including the: Metropolitan Police Service, several search and rescue teams, and a host of fire services surrounding the capital, as well as giving advice to other upcoming drone teams around the UK. Use of drone in future The Brigade’s drone capability has been molded to how it sees the future and what it holds in the way of drone use. For example, the Brigade has developed a capability to drop water rescue aides to people at water incidents, which helps to keep them afloat long enough to be rescued. The drone can also be used alongside the swift water rescue teams to provide situational awareness of hazards and the resulting risks during the rescue phase. Delivering fire escape tools The Brigade also invested in fire escape hoods in late 2018 and has already demonstrated how one might be delivered via a drone to a balcony above the height of an aerial appliance while using the Mavic Enterprise 2 to relay instructions via the loudspeakers. These possible new uses are pushing the boundaries of the Brigade’s original concept and demonstrate how London Fire Brigade works to stay ahead of the curve. 

Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition
Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition

There is a long tradition of canines in the fire service, from Dalmatians riding shotgun in the fire truck to mixed breeds rescued from fires that later become the fire company mascot. The tradition has taken a hit recently in Chicago, where dogs are no longer allowed at firehouses after one station dog killed a smaller breed canine near a firehouse in the Englewood neighborhood. The incident The firehouse dog in Chicago, named Bones, was a mixed breed stray rescued off the street that was living at Engine 116 at 60th Street and Ashland Avenue. A neighbor was walking her smaller breed dog past the firehouse and watched in horror as Bones attacked and killed her small dog. After the incident, Chicago’s Acting Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt issued a department memo: “Any and all prior permissions for dogs in the fire stations or on fire apparatuses are hereby revoked … effective immediately.” Chicago Firehouse dogs Most of Chicago’s firehouse dogs are strays that were picked up and brought to firefighters by the public. Fire crews and paramedics care for the dogs, train them, feed them and get them inoculated and spayed or neutered, then ask formal permission to keep the dogs on site. Historically, permission has been granted, in effect saving the dogs from being euthanized. Breed of choice The tradition of dogs and the fire service goes back centuries, to the 1700s, when carriage dogs first trotted alongside horse-drawn fire carriages. Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses, and grace under pressure. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) began utilizing Dalmatians as early as the 1870s. Dalmatians as firehouse ambassadors When motorized vehicles came on the scene, Dalmatians were already associated with firefighters, who continued to keep them on-site as firehouse residents and mascots. Increasingly, Dalmatians and other dogs became public ambassadors for firehouses and were involved in public education about fire safety and emergency preparedness for school and community groups. For example, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, a Dalmatian from Clarksville, Ark., was a character in her own set of children’s books about fire safety and traveled around the country teaching children about fire tips. reduce stress, provide comfort Currently, firehouse dogs are other breeds, too, many rescued from house fires or other tragedies. Firehouses often adopt dogs, who become symbols of resiliency, bravery, fortitude – and provide comfort and companionship for firefighters who face high levels of stress on the job. After the 9/11 attacks, two firefighters from Rochester, N.Y., gifted the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian puppy, appropriately named Twenty. The dog served as a source of comfort to the firefighters, who lost seven members of the company in 9/11. Dogs recognize signals Taken in as a stray in 1929, a dog named Nip served 10 years with New York’s Engine Company No. 203. During his service, the dog was injured by broken glass, falling debris, scalding burns, and bruises from falling off the fire engine. Nip could recognize all bells and signals. On fire scenes, Nip could alert firefighters if he knew something was wrong and sometimes run into burning buildings to look for victims. Unfortunately, Nip was killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of the firehouse in 1939 (and was stuffed by a taxidermist and displayed at the firehouse until 1974). Dogs promote fire safety Dogs promote fire safety outside the firehouse Dogs also promote fire safety outside the firehouse. For example, accelerant-sniffing dogs are trained to detect minute traces of accelerants that may be used to start a fire, according to the State Farm Arson Dog Program. The special bond between firefighters and dogs is the stuff of legend, despite the recent unfortunate events in Chicago – an ignoble scar on a long, colorful history of dogs in the fire service. Hopes remain that the decision can somehow be reversed, based on social media postings. “This is the first tragedy I have heard of in … 25 years,” said the administrator of the Firehouse Pups group.

What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?
What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications for almost every industry, some more than others. With the pandemic stretching well into a second year, the non-medical consequences continue, and many are wondering about which of the required changes might become permanent. As regards the fire sector, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What impact has COVID-19 had on the fire industry?