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Highways Agency to test tunnel sprinklers

TUNNEL SPRINKLER tests are to be carried out by the Highways Agency in a bid to improve tunnel safety, it emerged this week.

The tests to be carried out next year are part of the Agency's three year research programme into road tunnel safety, issued after the Mont Blanc and Tauern disasters.

The research, at the Transport Research Laboratory, will look into improving fire detection, ventilation and sprinkler systems. The aim is to prevent tunnel fires becoming so intense that fire-fighters are forced to evacuate, as happened at Mont Blanc.

Since fires in road tunnels usually start under vehicles researchers will look at positioning mists, sprays and water cannon on the walls or floor of the tunnel. 'We need to attack the seat of the fire, ' Agency senior advisor Robert Ford told NCE.

Sprinklers are normally put on the roof in road tunnels, where they can cool rising smoke, causing it to fall back down and hamper escape. Rising heat can also turn roof mounted sprays into scalding steam.

Depending on the results of a 10 month study by a team of consultants from TRL, Chiltern International Fire and Symonds, laboratory tests are expected to follow next year. Initial plans are for full scale trials in 2002, for which a section of the Mersey Tunnel has been made available.

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