Tyne Tunnel “Incident” Tests Emergency Services

8th November 2011

With just weeks to go before traffic can use it again, the original Tyne Tunnel was the scene of a full scale mock emergency exercise today (Tuesday 8th November 2011).

The 1967-built tunnel has been closed for eight months as part of the £260M New Tyne Crossing project to enable a substantial refurbishment to be undertaken. The original fittings and walkways have been stripped out and replaced with state-of-the-art equipment, bringing the 44 year old tunnel up to the same operating standards as the new Tyne Tunnel that came into use in February.

The region’s emergency responders have helped tunnel operator TT2 to develop a fully integrated emergency plan, which was put to the test today during a mock incident.

Ron Henderson, Operations Manager at the Tyne Tunnel, held the role of Emergency Exercise Director during the two hour event. He said: “I’m very pleased with the way the exercise has gone. Our staff found it invaluable as it allows them to test their reactions to a potentially serious incident, to the full. The outcomes of the exercise have provided great reassurance ahead of the refurbished tunnel’s commissioning. It’s fantastic to be able to offer our customers the safest tunnels in the UK.”

The emergency exercise featured a simulated chemical spill towards the northern end of the tunnel, with guest motorists providing an indicative public response. The tunnel’s high pressure mist system was activated as part of the exercise.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service played a key role in the exercise.  Station Manager Graeme Hurst said: “We sincerely hope an incident like this will never occur at the Tyne Tunnels but we do of course need to be prepared for worst case scenarios.  

“Fighting fires in tunnels is one of the most difficult types of incident for the Fire and Rescue Service to deal with. We have worked closely with TT2 over a number of years to install fire suppression systems in the new and newly refurbished tunnels. We are leading the way with the Tyne Tunnels now being the safest in the country.

“Today’s training exercise is a fantastic opportunity for all of the emergency services to test their responses, so that in the unlikely event of an incident occurring in the tunnel we are all equipped and prepared to deal with it safely, to ensure those who use the tunnel stay safer.”

In addition to the specialised safety systems installed in the refurbished tunnel, a dedicated escape passage has been built.

Paul Fenwick, Project Director for New Tyne Crossing Promoter, the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, said: “Fitting the existing tunnel structure with a separate escape passage presented a real challenge at the design stage. Through an innovative approach, Bouygues Travaux Publics UK, the main design and build contractor, was able to maintain sufficient space for two lanes of traffic as well as creating an easily accessible, clean air emergency exit route for tunnel users. The new features introduced through the refurbishment works have transformed the safety rating of the tunnel.”

Project Managing Director for Bouygues Travaux Publics UK, Nicolas Caille, said: “We are very pleased with the way the refurbishment has gone. We’ve introduced fittings that are tailor made to suit the tunnel and also to integrate with the technology and equipment installed in the other vehicle tunnel. It’s been reassuring to test the systems today and check that everything works the way it is meant to.”  

Trevor Jackson, Managing Director for TT2, the New Tyne Crossing Concessionaire, said: “We are very grateful for the continuing support we receive from the emergency services and the Tyne and Wear Emergency Planning Unit. Their assistance has been invaluable, not only in helping us to test the emergency response at the Tyne Tunnel with an event like today’s but also in working with us over previous years to develop a comprehensive safety plan for the tunnels.  

“We are close to the moment North East motorists have been eagerly anticipating. Today’s exercise brings us one step closer to transforming traffic flow on the A19, with two vehicle tunnels under the Tyne.”

The second vehicle tunnel is due to come into operation in December 2011.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact Tamsin Greulich at TT2 Limited on 0191 259 8189 / 07866 565 457 or Felicity Hall at Bradley O’Mahoney PR on 0191 265 8803.