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What If There Is a Fire in a Railroad Tunnel?

Posted June. 14, 2005 03:03,   


Railroad Tunnels without Emergency Exits—

According to information submitted by the Ministry of Construction and Transportation to the National Assembly Construction and Transportation Committee on June 13, out of 125 high-speed and normal railroad tunnels over 500m long, only four tunnels: Gwangmyeong City’s Gwangmyeong and Iljik tunnel, Chungbuk Youngdong-gun’s Hwashin Five tunnel, and the Hwanghak tunnel, or 3.2 percent of the tunnels, have emergency exits installed.

Experts point out that even among the tunnels that have emergency exits, only Iljik has three, while Gwangmyeong two, and the Hwashin Five tunnel and Hwanghak tunnel only have one exit, which would not be sufficient to cope with a large-scale fire.

The average distance that a passenger trapped in a tunnel has to travel in case of an emergency in the 125 tunnels was an average of 761.8m, 973m for high-speed railroad tunnels and 692m for normal railroad tunnels.

Out of the high-speed train railroad tunnels, Iljik tunnel had the longest emergency route of 3,086m, and 29 tunnels have routes over 1,000m long.

The average time to cover a tunnel distance is 15 minutes and 30 seconds, 17 minutes and 54 seconds for high-speed train railways and 14 minutes and 42 seconds for average railroads.

In particular, in case of normal tunnels, the Jangdong tunnel on the tracks between Gyeongsang and Jeolla province take 68 minutes to traverse, and the Jeolla line’s Byeongpung and Seulchi tunnels take 64 minutes and 70 minutes, respectively, which is over an hour.

In Cases of Foreign Countries—

Under the German Federal railroad standard, an average tunnel should have emergency exits at least every 500m.

Japan’s Department of National Transportation also regulates that bullet train tunnel emergency routes should not exceed 500m in case of fires and other emergencies.

Korea’s Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation, the subway corporation, also stipulates in its blueprints that in case of fire, passengers should be able to exit a tunnel within six minutes to be safe from smoke and toxic gases, which is significantly different from railroad tunnel escape routes.

The Necessity to Expand Emergency Exits and Fireplugs—

Under recommendation from the Board of Audit and Inspection, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation included fire preventing standards in its plans for high speed railroad tunnels in November of 2003.

However, most of the tunnels were almost complete, with the Seoul-Busan High Speed Railway to be opened in April 2004, so most of the tunnels do not have fire prevention facilities.

In case of average railways, fire prevention standards have not even been established.

A Ministry of Construction and Transportation official said, “We will arrange fire prevention standards for average railways under a lower law of the railroad security law.”

In this aspect, Assembly Construction and Transportation Committee Member lawmaker Lee Nak-yeon (Millennium Democratic Party) pointed out, “A fire in closed quarters such as a tunnel might lead to a large accident, but most of the tunnels are totally unprepared. That is because the government built the tunnels assuming that the possibility of a train fire is virtually non existent.”

A worker at the Korea Railroad Research Institute said, “We should acquire fire prevention facilities as soon as possible such as building escape routes and fireplugs inside railroad tunnels over one kilometer long to prevent accidents.”

Tae-Hun Hwang beetlez@donga.com