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Electromechanical installations for road tunnels

Insights Electromechanical installations for road tunnels

Towards the end of the 20th century there were several accidents involving fires in European tunnels, with a high number of fatalities. In particular, 39 fatalities occurred in the Montblanc Tunnel (France/Italy) and 12 in the Tauern Tunnel (Austria). The following table shows relevant information on fires in road tunnels in the second half of the 20th century.

11949Holland (N.Y., USA)26001Truck with Carbon Disulphide66 intoxicated
21965Blue Mountain (USA)13022Truck with fish oil
31969Moorfleet (Germany)2432Wheel of a truck
41974Chesapeake Bay (USA)??Petrol tanker1 intoxicated
51975Guadarrama (Spain)33452Truck with pine resin
61976Porte d’Itale (France)4252Truck with polyester fibres12 intoxicated
71978Velser (Netherlands)7682Truck with flowers and drinks5 dead 5 injured
81979Nihonzoka (Japan)20452Collision with truck carrying ether7 dead 3 injured
91980Kajwara (Japan)7402Truck carrying paint1 dead
101980Sakai (Japan)4592Truck crash5 dead
111982Caldecott (California, USA)10283Collision with petrol tanker7 dead
121983Pecorile (Italy)6022Truck with fish8 dead
131983Frejus (France)12 8701Truck with plastics1 intoxicated
141984St. Gotthard (Switzerland)16 3211Truck with plastics
151984Felbertauern (Austria)51301Bus brake failure
161986L’Armé (France)11051Car fire3 dead
171987Gumetens (Switzerland)3432Truck2 dead
181988Herzogber (Austria)20071Truck
191990Mont Blanc (France/Italy)11 6001Trailer with cotton2 intoxicated
201990Raldal (Norway)46571Overheating truck engine1 intoxicated
211993Serra Ripoli (Italy)442?Truck with paper rolls4 dead
221993Hoden (Norway)12831Car colliding with lorry carrying plastics
231994Castellar (France)5702Truck with waste paper
241994Huguenot (S. Africa)39141Bus gearbox1 dead 28 intoxicated
251994St. Gotthard (Switzerland)16 9181Broken truck wheel
261994Kingsway (U.K.)20002Bus engine fire
271995Plander (Austria)67191Crash of lorry carrying bread3 dead
281995Hitra (Norway)56451Truck crane engine fire
291996Isola delle Femine (Italy)1481Gas tanker5 dead 20 injured
301996Ekeberg (Norway)15632Diesel leak from bus
311997St. Gotthard (Switzerland)16 9181Bus engine fire
321997St. Gotthard (Switzerland)16 9181Truck engine fire1 intoxicated
331999Mont Blanc (France/Italy)11 6001Fire in margarine truck39 dead
341999Gleinalm (Austria)83201Bus
351999Tauern (Austria)60411Truck carrying tins of paint12 dead
362000Frejus (France)12 8701Truck carrying TVs

Table 1. Most significant fires in tunnels between 1949 and 2000

Although tunnel sections of a road have a lower accident rate than open-air roads (1/3 for two-way tunnels compared to open-air roads, and 1/6 for one-way tunnels compared to open-air roads), the consequences of a fire in a tunnel are significantly worse in terms of casualties (injuries and/or deaths). Given the terrible consequences of these fires, social awareness was severely shaken, resulting in the development of new tunnel safety regulations by the relevant authorities.

The following table shows, by way of example, several of the most significant road tunnel safety regulations in force in 2023, with their geographical scope of application:

EuropeDIRECTIVE 2004/54/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 29 April 2004 on minimum safety requirements for tunnels in the Trans-European Road Network.
SpainROYAL DECREE 635/2006, of 26 May 2006, on minimum safety requirements in State road tunnels (transposition into Spanish law of the preceding Directive); 2006.
United KingdomHighway Structures & Bridges Design – CD 352 DESIGN OF ROAD TUNNELS, version 0, March 2020.
NorwayROAD TUNNELS, MANUAL N500, Directorate of Public Roads, Statens Vegvesen, 2016.
AustraliaNew South Wales, TfNSW regulations. Victoria, VicRoads regulations.
New ZealandNZTA regulations: NZTA Guide to Road Tunnels.

Table 2. Tunnel safety regulations in certain countries/geographical areas

The regulations cited set out the criteria for the provision of the corresponding safety equipment for tunnels, depending on their characteristics; e.g. for RD 635/2006 applicable in Spain, depending on the type of tunnel (one-way or two-way, urban or interurban), its length and the level of traffic it accommodates.

Electromechanical systems are fundamental part of the safety installations/equipment of a tunnel, including:

VENTILATIONVentilation of Tunnels (comfort or sanitary, and emergency or fire); longitudinal / semi-transverse / transverse), Pressurisation of Evacuation Galleries/Emergency Exits, and Ventilation and Air Conditioning of Technical Rooms.
LIGHTINGTunnel lighting (normal and safety lighting), Emergency Lighting in tunnel for evacuation on foot, Normal and Emergency Lighting in Evacuation Galleries/Emergency Exits and Technical Rooms. Smart Lighting Control Systems.
ENERGY SYSTEMMedium and Low Voltage Electrical Distribution, including Emergency Power Supply to Critical Systems by means of generator set and/or UPS.
FIRE FIGHTINGIncluding equipped fire cabinets, hydrants, sprinkler systems, water mist systems, gas extinguishers.
EMERGENCY DOORSEmergency doors in escape galleries, provided with adequate fire resistance and tightness
FILTERING AND PUMPING SYSTEMFor evacuation of water from ground seepage into the tunnel, at low points, due to the existence of groundwater, etc.

Table 3. Types of electromechanical systems in road tunnels

The life cycle of a tunnel and its safety and control systems goes through several stages, from definition and design, through supply, installation, testing and commissioning, operation and maintenance, to final decommissioning. Each of them is crucial to ensure the safety, effectiveness and efficiency of the tunnel. Electromechanical systems, as well as all other tunnel safety systems, must be designed from a holistic perspective, taking into account their entire life cycle.

The maintenance and operation of the tunnel safety, control and automation installations must be carried out by means of a integrated platform for the management of the tunnel (or tunnels), from which all the systems are controlled and monitored, guaranteeing maximum safety and operability in daily management and in emergency situations. This is the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). All security systems are integrated and controlled by SCADA. There are two different situations in this regard:

  • In the case of a new tunnel, with new safety systems, the systems integration may be more or less complex, but the tunnel is closed to traffic in order to carry out all the necessary actions prior to commissioning.
  • When it comes to work on an existing tunnel, where the intention is to make improvements to existing systems, or to provide it with certain new safety systems, there are two other variables to be taken into account:
    • Generally, the tunnel has to be kept open to traffic, at least partially, which entails greater complexity in the planning of the works, establishing traffic detours via alternative routes, etc.
    • For the same reason, safety systems must be kept operational, which also means that existing systems are kept in operation simultaneously with the implementation of the upgrades, and that at a certain point the old systems are switched off and the new ones are brought online (e.g. in the replacement of tunnel lighting with VSAP by new LED floodlights). This adds greater complexity to the SCADA integration work of the systems/migration to the new systems.

SIDERA ITS&TUNNELS is the SCADA or advanced smart control and management platform developed by SICE, which adapts to the needs of each client and project. This platform receives real-time information on the operation of the systems and equipment installed in the tunnel, detecting possible problems and offering corrective and preventive measures in a timely manner. SICE also has an integrated management solution for multi-tunnel environments, which includes the capacity to integrate the operating systems and the capacity to monitor all their components, allowing the systems of multiple tunnels to be controlled centrally, guaranteeing maximum safety and operability.

Electromechanical systems must have the highest levels of reliability, availability, maintainability and safety. Likewise, efforts are now being made to install state-of-the-art technology to minimise the tunnel’s energy consumption, reducing the carbon footprint and aiming for zero emissions. For example:

  • Projectors with LED technology are used, which are much more energy-efficient than traditional systems (VSAP, metal halide, fluorescent, etc.)
  • Smart lighting control systems are used, depending on outdoor brightness, weather conditions, traffic level and speed, etc. In combination with LED technology, this allows for greater energy savings.
  • Variable frequency drives are used for the jet fans, resulting in considerable energy savings, and better operability in terms of handling fumes in the event of a fire in the tunnel.

Here are some references of projects in which SICE has implemented and integrated electromechanical systems in tunnels within SCADA.

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