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As a three-year study of fire and explosion hazards in mass transit tunnels draws to a close, TunnelTalk looks at the initial findings of a full-scale experiment carried out in a disused tunnel in Sweden.
A series of unique fire and explosion tests were carried out on trains fitted out to different levels of fire protection standards in an abandoned railway tunnel outside Arvika, Sweden. Underground metro rail systems are complex infrastructures that create a situation in which many people share a relatively limited area at the same time.
Terrorist attacks, such as those that occurred in London in 2005, and in Moscow in 2010, show the new threats to which a metro system is vulnerable. The METRO project, with a funding of US$2 million, is concerned with fire and explosion safety in underground mass transport systems. In order to obtain a better understanding of the growth of a fire and conditions governing rescue work in tunnels, full-scale fire tests were carried out in the abandoned Brunsberg tunnel, 20km outside Arvika. Full-scale fire tests are demanding in terms of resources, and only very few such tests have been performed on metro trains or full size trains anywhere in the world.
Earlier tests have been carried out without considering the baggage carried by passengers, and possibly left behind when the train is evacuated. The fires in the Bakus metro in 1995, and the Kaprun mountain railway tunnel in 2000, show that abandoned clothing and baggage can play an important part in the progress of the fire. For this reason, as part of the work of the METRO Project, a field survey was carried out on Stockholm commuter trains and underground trains, under the leadership of the Mälardalen University in conjunction with SL and MTR in Stockholm. For the full-scale tests Stockholm Public Transport (SL) provided three Type X1 commuter train carriages. The two major fire tests were carried out in two identical Type X1 carriages, with the same additional fire load in the form of passengers' baggage, but with one essential difference, in that the interior of one carriage was completely refitted as described above.
Temperatures, radiation, concentrations of various gases, smoke density, air velocity and heat release rate were measured at many positions, both in the carriages and in the tunnel. The fire grew considerably more slowly in the carriage that had been converted to better represent present day metro carriage standards.
On the other hand the progress of the fire immediately before and during flashover is very similar in both cases.

An interesting phenomenon occurred during the tests, in that the entire air mass (bulk) in the tunnel started to pulsate.
This phenomenon had been previously observed in the Runehamar road tunnel fire tests that were carried out by SP in 2003, but it was not clear whether it would also occur in these tests. The results are expected to be of considerable value to tunnel operators, fire and rescue services, public authorities, designers, consultants and insurance companies all over the world. Quickly convert any vehicle into a fire apparatus with a Weis Slide-In Unit, manufactured in every size — from large capacity tanks to UTV-mountable systems. Results from the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden led test, screened live to 300 participants at a METRO Project seminar, will be valuable tools in the future design of tunnels and for the planning of rescue operations.
The purpose of the tests was to investigate how fire and combustion products spread in the early stages of a fire, as well as to obtain values of temperatures and heat release rates in a fully developed fire in a tunnel. Large numbers of people, differences in levels and long escape routes all complicate evacuation and rescue efforts. It brings together scientists and experts from nine different organisations in Sweden: MA¤lardalen University, Lund University, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden (SP), FOI Swedish Defence Research Agency, University of GA¤vle, Swedish National Defence College, Swedish Fortifications Agency, Greater Stockholm Fire and Rescue Service and Stockholm Public Transport (SL).
The project management group for the entire METRO project consists of MA¤lardalen University, SP, and Lund University. The tunnel is a 276m long single track tunnel that was abandoned when a new tunnel was built close by in order to improve track alignment.
These tests are, in fact, unique in several ways: partly in terms of their performance, bringing together many research and working disciplines actively to participate in the tests and benefit from the results, and partly because typical baggage was used in order to provide an additional fire load in the tests. The full-scale tests in the Brunsberg tunnel therefore included baggage in the carriages in the form of an average distribution of 4.5kg on or beside 82% of the available seats, these being the values found by the above described survey in the Stockholm metro.
The actual fires in the carriages were started using a smaller quantity of petrol, similar to what would be likely with a deliberately started fire. The tests showed clearly that the presence of baggage plays an important part in the progress of the fire, but also that the work that has been done on improving fire safety in metro carriages is effective. Although both the full-scale fires resulted in flashover, there was a considerable difference in the time taken to reach it.

The measured heat release rates will be considerably higher than values that have previously been measured. Before pulsation occurred, the smoke was backlayering upstream of the fire, but this could be more or less controlled by increasing the speed of the fan.
Even while the tests were in progress the project and the full-scale tests were arousing considerable interest in the media. Chief among the findings is that the presence of passenger luggage plays a key role in determining the extent of the fire.
The speed at which a fire develops, and the resulting conditions inside carriages and in the tunnel, are decisive in determining whether passengers can escape safely.
Multi disciplinary work extends across specialisation fields and organisation boundaries, with the full-scale tests covering several sub areas: fire, explosion, evacuation and rescue work. Bags used in the tests contained paper, plastic and fabrics in a representative allocation, as based on the earlier field tests. The first test involved a fire underneath a carriage, followed by two full-scale fire tests and a final explosion test.
In the case of a real fire this phenomenon would be of major importance when deciding whether it would be possible to attempt to approach the fire.
An international workshop, attended by over 170 delegates from 18 different countries, was held in parallel with one of the fire tests in the tunnel. The project has been financed by SL, Formas (Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning), the Swedish Fire Research Board, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and the Swedish Fortifications Agency.
Delegates were able to visit the tunnel before the test, and watch the test 'live' from the conference hall.

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