At 8pm the evening of August 10, 1903 in Paris’ popular Couronnes underground subway passengers anxiously awaited to make their way home. Then an empty train that had caught fire made its way into the station. While at first thought to be under control, the fire soon grew and overwhelmed the stations. With the power cut and smoke quickly spreading, it claimed the lives of 84 people. While this is one of the earliest tunnel tragedies, it certainly wasn’t the last:
- On November 18, 1987 31 people were killed when a similar fire broke out in the King’s Cross tube tunnels when they became disoriented and trapped by darkness and smoke.
- On March 24, 1999 truck fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel in the Alps killed 38 people who were trapped in the tunnel and unsure of what to do.
- On December 2, 2012 the collapse of the Sasago Tunnel in Japan killed 9 people and trapped many more when concrete paneling from the ceiling of the tunnel collapsed and ignited vehicles below.
Preventing such tragedies may not be possible, but there are ways to prepare for them that enhances the safety of our citizens using tunnels. According to the US Fire Association the number one cause of death in a fire is smoke inhalation, not the actual flames. As was the case in the tunnel disasters stated above: inhaling toxic smoke was the leading cause of death. Knowing how to exit is key to surviving any fire and it’s no different in a tunnel. AAA.com has a safety checklist for what to do if in a tunnel emergency. In the event of a fire the checklist states that you should not try to extinguish a car fire unless it has just started, and if it is not possible to extinguish the fire to leave immediately through the nearest emergency exit.
Photoluminescent markings provide a reliable and highly visible way to identify exits throughout a tunnel. Charged by the ambient light they’re always ready for service. That’s why you’ll find JALITE egress markers and safety signs light the way in many tunnels today. Such tunnels include:
- The Hindhead Tunnel in London, England.
- The Cross Harbor Tunnel in Hong Kong, China
- The SeaTac Tunnel in Seattle, Washington
- The Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, New York
- And more!