THE original Tyne Tunnel was the scene of a full scale mock emergency exercise this week, in preparation for its reopening.
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, 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.
In addition to the specialised safety systems installed in the refurbished tunnel, a dedicated escape passage has been built.
Paul Fenwick, project director for 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.”
Trevor Jackson, Managing Director for TT2, the New Tyne Crossing Concessionaire, added: “We are close to the moment north east motorists have been eagerly anticipating. This 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.