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Penny pinching Highways Agency in tunnel safety row

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THE HIGHWAYS Agency is putting motorists' lives at risk by failing to adopt fire suppression systems for tunnels, claiming that the new technology is too expensive.

The decision has prompted the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to accuse the government of hypocrisy.

'There is overwhelming evidence that fire suppression systems in tunnels is vital. They improve public safety, improve emergency service safety and limit economic losses through fire, ' said an FBU spokesman.

'The government is quick to preach about prevention measures and lowering risk.

'All too often it runs away from such measures when it is footing the bill and that is not an acceptable position.' he recently developed high-pressure suppression systems work by pumping water at 200bar through specially developed nozzles, creating a ne mist moving with enough momentum to reach the re.

The droplets achieve a large surface area enabling the system to drastically reduce temperatures in a few seconds.

In the past six years 440 people worldwide have been killed in 72 tunnel res, all of them lacking a suppression system.

The Agency on rmed that it would not use a re suppression system on the 1.8km Hindhead Tunnel about to be constructed in Hampshire. 'The cost/benet analysis undertaken as part of the design development of the tunnel showed that it was not economic to install this type of system at this time, ' said a spokesman.

'Safe procedures will be developed for dealing with any re incident, without a re suppression system. The design of the tunnel will incorporate space and facilities for the future installation of a re suppression system, if such measures become mandatory or more cost-effective.' Halcrow's e safety engineering director Dr Fathi Tarada con med that the high-pressure systems are expensive to install but justi ble on safety grounds.

Despite costing millions of pounds to install, the systems are mandatory in Australia and Japan and are being installed in tunnels in France and Spain.

French tunnel operator Co oute has begun installing the Hi-Fog high-pressure system, manufactured by Finnish rm Marioff, on its 10km A86 tunnel near Paris for @20M (£13M).

Marioff Group president Petteri Saarinen told NCE that Co oute managed to make an economic case for using the system when it compared the cost of shutting down the tunnel following a re with the cost of fitting a system to prevent one.

Tarada said that he didn't see 'these systems becoming mandatory for a very long time.

The crucial turning point will be when the system is rst installed in a UK tunnel as it will set a precedent and could become the standard.'

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