Eurostar boots tunnel safety

11 April 2008

If an incident happens in one tunnel of the new Cross London Channel Tunnel Rail Link passengers will be evacuated to another. But how do you ensure they remain safe and the environment is kept smoke free? The answer for Rail Link Engineering was intelligent fans.

Photo courtesy of LCR / Hugo Dixon
Photo courtesy of LCR / Hugo Dixon

In practice this meant a dual redundant system of programmable automations controllers (PACs) to handle ventilation and safety. These were linked into the SCADA system located at the Ashford, UK, Eurostar control centre.

There are three new tunnels on the new high-speed link that, in the UK, runs from Ebbsfleet, North Kent, to St Pancras station, passing under central London and the River Thames. The tunnels are twin bore, one for each direction of travel, with regular cross passages that facilitate escape to safety in the event of an incident.

Ventilation and escape or access are the keys to tunnel safety and Rail Link Engineering entrusted the control system for this to Johnson Controls, which chose Mitsubishi Electric as their key technology supplier. The architecture selected was a unified dual redundant network running all the way from the Ashford control centre to St Pancras and back again.

Ian Spencer, of Johnson Controls said: ‘The whole system is based on Mitsubishi’s MX4SCADA and Q series PACs. These are high performance state-of-the-art PLCs (programmable logic controllers), designed for use in large complex systems and the most demanding applications.

‘One of their great advantages for this job is that that they are easy to set up in a redundant or standby configuration. Previously such belt and braces systems design was very expensive to implement, but with the Q series, costs are barely more than for a conventional system.’

A pair of PACs, configured in warm standby mode are assigned to control the main tunnel ventilation fans at each of the 11 portal/shaft locations throughout the length of the tunnels. These fans are used to move smoke away from an incident train in one tunnel bore and pressurise the other tunnel bore to create ‘a place of relative safety’ to which passengers and train crew can escape.

Although the fans are generally used for cooling of trains during periods of congestion (a bespoke interface between MX4SCADA and the Signalling System was developed to allow the MX4SCADA to monitor train positions) and to provide ventilation for maintenance teams in the tunnels, they have to be able to be configured in one of many hundreds of possible ventilation modes, dependant upon the ‘incident’ trains position at a moment’s notice. This ability is tested regularly through the PACs’ pre-programming.

Along with the bespoke interface with the signalling system, which enables the position of trains within the tunnels to be monitored, is a bespoke interface with EMMIS (Electrical and Mechanical Information System). The status and position of cross passage doors and other essential equipment within the cross passages is sent to EMMIS from the MX4SCADA system.

A critical part of the tunnel’s safety regime is the cross passages. If an incident occurs in one tunnel, they allow the passengers rapid egress to the other and ultimately escape from danger. There are frequent cross passages so that evacuation can be rapid and safe, no matter where in the tunnel the incident occurs.

The Mitsubishi control system is designed to maintain a positive pressure in the cross passages, so that they can be cleared of smoke in all events. The fans, for ensuring this safety critical function, are again controlled by warm standby pairs of Q series PACs. The cross passage door positions are monitored continually by Q series PACs on a dual redundant Melsec 10 network that connects back to the warm standby PACs.

It is an inescapable reality that all major tunnels are likely to have low lying points where water may amass, causing a nuisance, hygiene risk, or local flooding. To overcome this Rail Link Engineering has installed banks of large pumps in several susceptible locations. These are all controlled by Mitsubishi variable speed drives integrated into the pumps control network.

Speaking about the decision not to put the pumps on a dedicated network Spencer said the advantages of integration were ‘significant’.

‘Maintenance of a single system is far easier, and condition monitoring of the environment and technical systems is straightforward,’ he concluded.

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