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Rail tunnel fires: How to minimize risk, maximize safety, report says

Tunnel fires long have been a safety concern for passenger railroads — rail tunnels carry about 50 percent more people compared with vehicular tunnels. Taking certain fire safety precautions can increase passengers' survival chances, according to a recently released Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc. report.

Based on its experience with tunnel fire safety projects, the engineering firm has formulated recommendations to improve vehicular safety. First, transit agencies should remove flammable debris from tracks and make sure trains contain fireproof materials, such as non-flammable seats and floors.

Agencies also should consider expanding their emergency exhaust fan capacity in tunnels. If a fire does occur, a large exhaust system can quickly pull smoke to the top and out of the tunnel.

Modernizing emergency ventilation controls also can help increase tunnel safety, the report said. Installing controls to quickly activate emergency ventilation systems can save operators time.

Finally, transit agencies should conduct regular planning and training exercises to prepare workers in case of a fire, including exercises outlining each person’s responsibilities if a fire occurs and frequent simulations to practice those responsibilities.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/16/2004