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Fire and Life Safety – The EastLink Perspective


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Author P S Smith and C MacDonald


There are many technologies available today in terms of fire and life safety
in road tunnels. So many in fact that it is becoming more and more difficult for
clients and contractors alike to determine what they want and what they need.
From a client’s perspective, fire and life safety is about protection to its
infrastructure and to the public at large. Conversely, the contractor is looking
to meet its ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘deem to comply’ requirements in the most
economic and practicable way.

Practices regarding fire and life safety in road tunnels have undergone a
degree of transformation during the last decade or more throughout the world.
This transformation has largely been driven by a series of catastrophic
accidents such as the major fires in Europe including the Mont Blanc Tunnel,
Tauern Tunnel, Saint-Gothard Tunnel, and now most recently in the CityLink
Tunnels in Melbourne.

International guidelines produced by organisations such as the Permanent
International Association of Road Congresses (PIARC), the European Union, the
International Tunnelling Association (ITA) and the US National Fire Protection
Authority (NFPA) now provide clients, owners and designers with the tools
required to define and specify the required fire and life safety systems in road
tunnels. The majority of these tools are based on risk assessment and risk

Recent road tunnel projects within Australia, however, have not referred
solely to such guidelines. Clients have opted to prescribe different or
additional fire and life safety requirements within the project’s technical
specification documentation (project requirements), leaving designers and
contractors with little room to implement alternatives or substitutions.
Further, these project requirements are largely dictated by practice established
on previous road tunnel projects within Australia.

This paper looks at the
current international guidelines and practices and undertakes a comparison with
the EastLink tunnels in Melbourne and other road tunnels within Australia and
makes assessment on whether Australian methods are the most appropriate for
clients and contractors alike. Focus is directed to the key elements of fire and
life safety such as:

  • traffic envelope, barrier arrangements and emergency
    walkway provisions;

  • deluge systems;
  • drainage systems;
  • fire rating requirements;
  • tunnel ventilation systems;
  • cross passage provisions;
  • fire safety assessment;
  • critical intelligence systems including help phones, CCTV, incident detection, tunnel signage, etc;

  • external tunnel control systems.