Skip to content Skip to footer

We are safe in the longest non-urban tunnel in Poland

[A fumy tunnel and a road. There is a bus with lights on in one of the lanes. In front of the vehicle, there are road cones. Far behind the bus, there are a few people.

The evacuation took place with the use of non-toxic artificial smoke; the Emilia tunnel in Laliki. Photo: Izabela Tekielak-Skałka

We are safe in the longest non-urban tunnel in Poland

The AGH UST scientists participated in the design work related to state-of-the-art systems and solutions that had been applied in the longest non-urban tunnel in Poland. The underground passage on one of the most longed-for motorways in southern Poland will warn users against fires and toxic substances and emit special communications for the deaf.

Our scientists have been involved in the investigation of rock parameters and the monitoring of orogen stress in the phase of tunnel construction under the Luboń Mały mountain on the S7 motorway in the Małopolska Province. In addition, they have participated in designing systems that make this passage one of the most high-tech tunnels in this part of Europe.

Dr (Eng.) Natalia Schmidt-Polończyk from the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Resource Management lists the solutions with which the underground passage is equipped:

‘I must mention the traffic safety information system, the longitudinal ventilation system, voice communications, the air supply system, and a signalling system for the deaf. In the event of evacuation, the last one proves paramount.

Dual video detection system is a set of cameras mounted in the tunnel and equipped with two lenses – the first one analyses events under conditions of good visibility and the other has thermal vision, which will show us what is happening in the tunnel during a fire.

Longitudinal ventilation system is responsible for venting out toxic pollutants emitted by vehicles, and in the case of a fire, sucking out fire gases and smoke from the tunnel.

Curtain system used to protect the construction against strong foehn winds. A set of fans mounted near the entrance to the tunnel on the side of Zakopane is to counteract strong foehn winds, making the work of ventilation so much easier. In the event of the greatest danger in a tunnel, namely a fire, the system will prevent the smoke from being blown back to the tunnel.

Pressure control system includes ventilators mounted along evacuation routes. Their job is to stop toxic fumes and fire smoke from entering the safe zone.

In the context of new tunnels emerging all over the world, despite being equipped with early warning systems and danger notification devices, the most important problem is still the behaviour of the evacuees.

Dr (Eng.) Natalia Schmidt-Polończyk co-authored Poland’s first scientific study on the evacuation of people in real road tunnels with high levels of smoke.

The first investigation was carried out in 2016 in the then longest non-urban tunnel in Poland, the Emilia tunnel in Laliki. About 60 contemporary students of mine took part in the tests. The evacuation took place with the use of non-toxic artificial smoke. We analysed the decision-making porcesses related to the start of evacuation and the choice of evacuation route, we studied interactions between the experiment participants and the influence of the level of smoke on the speed of movement. A year later, the same experiment was repeated in Gdańsk, in the tunnel under the Martwa Wisła river. Then, we evacuated almost 100 people from a fumy tunnel’, the scientist says.

Almost 100 people were evacuated from a fumy tunnel under the Martwa Wisła river in Gdańsk. Photo: Natalia Schmidt-Polończyk

A rescue mission in a tunnel: the victims are lying on stretchers, immobilised with straps. Around them, there are medics and fire fighters. Medical bags are scattered on the road.

The most significant conclusion of the pioneering investigation pertains to the reaction of people in the event of a tunnel fire.

Unfortunately, we don’t commence evacuation procedures right away, but prefer to stay in our own vehicles because we feel safer there. During the evacuation studies, we noticed the paramount importance of a leader – a person who makes the decision to start the evacuation or selects the evacuation route. The rest simply follows that person. In turn, when the smoke level was high, it turned out that the participants lost the sense of direction in a tunnel completely, which resulted in choosing an evacuation route that led towards the fire, which, in real-life circumstances, could end badly,’ the author of the study explains.