Amongst the main goals of the European Community is the establishment of a unified European Market facilitating free transport of people, goods and services. With a view to enable economic growth and sustained socio-economic development, the infrastructure needs to be reliable and safe. Transport by road and rail in Europe heavily relies on existing tunnels.
The recent catastrophes of Mont Blanc tunnel, Tauern tunnel, Kitzsteinhorn tunnel and St. Gotthard tunnel have demonstrated the urgent need for improving preparedness in preventing and dealing with tunnel accidents, both in providing safe construction criteria for new tunnels, in re-organising the management and the configuration of existing ones and in better informations of and better communications with tunnel users.
SAFET aims to develop comprehensive guidelines for pan-European decision-making on the safety of existing tunnels (primarily road but also rail) by investigating, identifying, assessing and proposing best-practice solutions for:
- Preventing incidents/accidents in existing tunnels; and
- mitigating their effects - for both people and goods - to ensure a high level of tunnel safety in Europe.
It is difficult, impossible or expensive to meet all prescriptive guidelines especially in existing tunnels. For existing tunnels a more integral approach of safety is more attractive and can be better realised. The challenge of SAFET is to establish such integrated (top-down) performance-based guidelines. This can be realised by taking into account all elements of what is known as the 'safety chain'.
The safety chain comprises:
- Proactivity - Structural and operational safety measures during the planning phase (before construction or refurbishment).
- Prevention - Traffic management measures to avoid incidents and accidents.
- Preparation - Emergency preparedness; measures to deal with incidents and accidents adequately.
- Repression - Actual emergency repression after the incident or accident to reduce the consequences of the incident the accident.
- After-care - Actions to be taken after the repression stage to return to the normal situation and data collection.
- Evaluation - Evaluation of (near) accidents (lessons learned).
The SAFET thematic network has:
- Been building on the European Directive 2004/54/EC on road tunnel safety;
- summarised and exploited the outcomes of six individual FP5 research projects;
- developed a global, though flexible and non-restrictive approach to tunnel safety incorporating both performance based and prescriptive approaches; and
- produced Best Practice European Guidelines covering:
- the current state of practice,
- accident and incident detection and traffic management,
- evacuation intervention management,
- post accident investigation and evaluation,
- harmonised risk assessment, and
- integrated tunnel safety management systems.
Over a five year period, a total of seven research projects including SAFET have investigated the possibilities to prevent accidents and incidents by holistic approaches to tunnel safety, and secondly to mitigate the impacts of accidents and incidents involving fire by improving tunnel infrastructures and safety systems. The best practice guidelines released by SAFET are in line with the revision of design guidelines for tunnels in several countries, namely Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland prompted by some 10 severe fire accidents in road and rail tunnels.
Findings from the SAFET thematic network are primarily relevant for road tunnels whereas rail tunnels are only partially covered.