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Fire protection of road and Rail tunnels

Fires inside long tunnels are rare but can be catastrophic. Intervention by the fire brigade is difficult due to access problems. Heat and smoke make fire-fighting operations dangerous and slow. Tunnel fires pose not only a life safety threat for car or train passengers, but also cause severe damage to the tunnel lining and mechanical and electrical systems. There is special concern about fires involving heavy goods vehicles, as evidence shows that the most disastrous real fires in tunnels, with the highest death rates, often start at or involve a truck.



The fire protection objective is therefore to suppress any fire that may occur, stop the fire spreading to adjacent vehicles or carriages, and minimize damage to the tunnel and infrastructure. In addition the system should cool down the gases so as to make more tenable conditions for evacuation and access by fire brigades


 

It is not surprising that up to now only a few active fire protection systems have been installed in tunnels for practical reasons. Tunnel conditions are always windy, due to forced or natural ventilation, are typical. Tests and modeling have shown that hot smoke is immediately blown away from the actual fire location so until recently activation by heat detection was not considered reliable. Even when the correct location is found, the ventilation may blow the suppression agent away. Computer studies with conventional low-pressure sprinklers have shown that a large fire activates so many sprinklers that the size of piping and pump unit would be completely impractical.



However recent full-scale tests have shown that water mist, due to its strong momentum, can effectively penetrate the windy and turbulent conditions encountered in tunnels, and reduce temperatures sufficiently to prevent fire spread and structural damage.

 

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