Firefighters and gardai trained to deal with Limerick tunnel disasters
By Mike Dwane
OVER 100 firefighters and 60 gardai are being trained to respond to incidents in the Limerick Tunnel as construction on the â‚¬660m second phase of the Southern Ring Road project continues.
A spokesperson for the Direct Route consortium confirmed this Thursday that the tunnel was scheduled to open on time in September 2010, with the toll for ordinary motorists expected to be around â‚¬2 when it opens.
Local businesspeople and Austrian professionals resident in Ireland were this Thursday given a guided tour of the tunnel in advance of an Irish-Austrian business networking event at the Clarion Hotel, an initiative of Austrian construction giant Strabag, the tunnelling experts for Direct Route.
Five 100m sections of tunnel â€“ named Liz, Grace, Brigid, Chantal and Sarah â€“ are all in place and it has been possible to walk under the Shannon since November 2008. Each section is the length of a football pitch, as high as a two-storey house and wide enough to accommodate four lanes of traffic. Engineers are currently engaged in installing the high-tech mechanical, electrical and safety systems in the tunnel.
And Direct Route manager Tom King said the emergency services, too, are preparing for the grand opening.
"The emergency services tunnel training has started with the fire services from Limerick county, Limerick city and Clare. A select group of fire officers from the three fire services recently attended specialised tunnel firefighting training in Switzerland," said Mr King.
"The fire services will train up to 120 firefighters and the Gardai plan to train up to 60 officers for response to incidents in the tunnel," he added.
Engineers attached to the project have explained that, in the event of fire, smoke or polluted air, the tunnel comes with a high-spec reversible ventilation system.
Roger Harse, of Capital Symonds, who were involved in the tunnel design, told a conference in Limerick last year that every 50 metres along the tunnel there will emergency doors. Fire points with hydrants and power sockets for Limerick Fire Service are to be installed. And a number of emergency points for the public are to be equipped with telephones, alarm buttons and fire extinguishers.
In the case of an oil spillage inside the tunnel, there will be fire-protected drainage sumps which could accommodate a spillage from a full tanker. A foam system is also being built into the tunnel in the event of a fire.
And in addition to two full power supplies entering from either side of the tunnel, there are to be additional back-up generators. The tunnel will also be equipped with an "intelligent detection system".
"It will pick up on movements of animals, not a mouse, but anything as big as a dog, or pedestrians or anything else that shouldn't be in there, it will pick up on accidents and smoke and is fitted with CCTV," Mr Harse said. And the system will "capture images 30 seconds before the alarm is activated so we can find out why it happened".
Meanwhile, the Irish-Austrian business networking event that arose from Strabag's involvement in the project has proved a huge success.
As well as Limerick, the firm has been involved in tunnel building projects in Niagara, New Zealand and Montenegro. It has also won contracts in the past for the Copenhagen Metro and airports in Sofia and even Basra, Iraq.
Strabag and Direct Route teamed up with Limerick Chamber and the Austrian Trade Commission to organise the networking event.
"Overwhelming interest" in the guided tour of the tunnel meant is had to be split into two sessions, after which over 100 businesspeople got together in the Clarion to make connections over a selection of Austrian wines.