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15 June 2011, 11:59
A full scale, live emergency exercise in the new A3 Hindhead Tunnel has been taken place.
The exercise on June 14th, which simulated two multi-vehicle collisions, one including a fire in the tunnel, allowed the Highways Agency and emergency services to practise their response to a major incident as well as testing some of the tunnel's safety technology.
Members of the police, fire and rescue, ambulance services and local authorities joined forces with the tunnel operators for the test which was carried out in the tunnel itself, under the Devil's Punchbowl in Surrey, before it opens to traffic next month.
Paul Arnold, Highways Agency senior project manager for the A3 Hindhead major improvement scheme, said:
"The exercise was the last big milestone before the new road opens to traffic in a few weeks time. It was a good opportunity to put the tunnel's emergency plan into action and make sure that the joint response to a major incident in the tunnel is well practised.
Safety is our top priority, and we have built some state of the art features into the tunnel, including the UK's first use of a radar based incident detection system. Road users and local people should be reassured that the emergency services and tunnel personnel are well equipped to deal with a real major incident in the Hindhead tunnel."
Paul Ginty, Borough Manager, from Surrey Fire and Rescue said:
"Hopefully we'll never be called to a real life incident such as this but itâ€™s vital weâ€™re prepared for any eventuality which is why holding a training exercise in the tunnel was so valuable. An emergency in a tunnel presents challenges to the emergency services but we are well prepared to respond."
The exercise, codenamed Exercise Stag, simulated a major incident in the Hindhead Tunnel. In the scenario, there were two separate collisions involving an HGV, three cars and a minibus in the 1.2 mile-long tunnel. One of the collisions resulted in a fire, and a coach, HGV and several cars, were trapped between the two collisions. Volunteer actors played the role of casualties who suffered minor injuries and trauma and the local authorities supplied others who were caught up in the incident.
The tunnel's safety systems include 100% CCTV coverage, and state of the art communications systems. Radar based technology can detect any unusual activity in the tunnel, such as a stationary vehicle, pedestrian, animal or large pieces of debris on the road. Signs and signals can quickly lower the speed limit and close lanes, and a contraflow can be set up quickly and easily to direct traffic through one of the tunnel bores should the other become impassable.
The Hindhead tunnel is part of a four mile bypass which will eliminate a notorious congestion hotspot on the A3, the main route between London and Portsmouth. The new road will reunite two areas of countryside to create the largest area of heath land in southern Britain. It will open to traffic in July.