Cooperating to improve tunnel operations and safety

Cooperating to improve tunnel operations and safety
Experts from businesses and public bodies from all over the world use the well-known Hagerbach Test Gallery in Switzerland to perform research, development, testing and full-scale experiments. The VersuchsStollen Hagerbach AG facilitate cooperation between companies, associations and research institutes, to improve construction, operation and safety of tunnels with a professional approach.
I visited The Hagerbach Test Gallery in February 2018. The test gallery where founded as a research and development facility for tunnel construction in 1970. The focus was initially to test drill and explosives technology, but the last years the facilities are used to prepare large complex construction and installation works in tunnels, testing new technologies, facilitate demonstrations and performing research, test and verification. The test facility contains of multitude of galleries, caverns, testing areas, laboratories and training rooms. There are several partners involved and even more connected companies actively using the facilities. We witness first hand this collaboration in our visit to Hagerbach Test Gallery. A wise man once said "Nothing new that is really interesting comes without collaboration" and it seems true when it comes to improve construction, operation and safety of tunnels.
Road and rail tunnels have challenges when it comes to reliability, maintainability and availability on safety equipment that is a subject of wear and tear and external forces. An example of such equipment are emergency evacuation doors and entrances to technical facilities. Constant shifting high pressures, corrosion and other environmental conditions makes it especially challenging. In surprisingly many cases a normal door solution will have trouble to either open or close as result of shifting pressure. Imaging you are evacuating from a large tunnel fire, in smoke conditions, and the emergency door will not close properly and you find yourself in a situation where the safe area is not designed to handle the pressure from the increased ventilation due to the fire. Or even worse, you are not able to open the door and provide your own safety.

The companies connected to the test gallery showed us how research and development in the test gallery have ensured that their products are optimised for the challenges in tunnels. By full-scale testing, the Elkuch AG Tunnel Solutions tests their emergency doors in conditions with high shifting pressure to make sure that new innovative solutions can be implemented in even more challenging conditions and with higher requirements. High speed rail tunnels with extreme high shifting pressure (600 Pa), is an example of such conditions.

An other challenge is to find cost-effective installation solutions for large tunnel projects. Several companies have collaborated to find a door element solution and a method for installation in long tunnels. The result is impressive and it takes 10 minutes to place the element in the right position. The solution includes a specialised mechanism used for placement of the door element, ready to move from passage to passage by train. 

And of course, emergency evacuation doors and entrances to technical facilities are required to have a certain fire protection. Fire tests are performed in Hagerbach, and the staff provide expert assistance and necessary licensees for verification of tests. In addition, the staff provide other support to the companies, including demonstration of technologies when the company is not present. 

An insight in the work in The Hagerbach Test Gallery has been a valuable input in an ongoing study that aims to provide a similar collaboration between companies in Norway, within tunnel operations and safety. And hopefully a close cooperation between nations. 



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