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27 October 2005

Mott MacDonald helps Mersey Queensway Tunnel attain highest EU standards in safety

A £9 million safety project, which brings the escape provision within the Queensway (Liverpool – Birkenhead) Tunnel in line with the highest European specifications, will be completed next month. The project comprises seven emergency refuges capable of accommodating up to 180 people in bright and airy conditions. Each refuge is equipped with two way CCTV communication with the tunnel control room.

Councillor Mark Dowd, Chair of Merseytravel which owns and operates the Mersey Tunnels, said: “Safety is of paramount importance and while new European legislation does not strictly apply to the Mersey Tunnels we were totally committed to improving escape provisions to meet the highest modern safety standards.”

Neil Scales, Chief Executive and Director General of Merseytravel, said: “The Mersey Tunnels have an extremely good safety record and we are spending some £32 million upgrading and improving them to ensure we maintain this record.”

The refuges have been built under the roadway in a programme that saw the tunnel completely closed only twice during the 19 month building period. Both closures were over week-end periods and the vast majority of the work at road level was carried out on Monday to Friday nights utilising routine maintenance closures of two lanes of the four lane tunnel. All material, plant and equipment necessary for the construction of the refuges, tunnel and walkways had to pass through a 2m x 2m opening in the tunnel road deck whilst live traffic passed in the two open lanes. This opening was only available for two weeks in every six which made the whole project a complex planning and logistical exercise.

The seven refuges are approximately 2.3 metres high, 21 metres long and three metres wide. They are spaced about 180 metres apart with entry via two fire resistant doors on the tunnel verge, which lead to a ramp down to the refuge suitable for wheel-chair users. A supply of bottled water and an accessible toilet is provided in each refuge together with some seating and all seven are linked by walkways under the road surface.

In the event of an emergency, motorists are directed to the nearest refuge through a public address system while flashing arrows illuminates the entrances and directional noise beacons guide people to the doors. The refuges are designed to accommodate escapees for a period of time until staff from the tunnel operator or the emergency services arrive to escort them to the surface or back to their vehicles.

Engineering consultant Mott MacDonald, who designed the Queensway Tunnel in the 1920s, was commissioned to review and develop an escape concept that would address the needs of disabled people, facilitate self rescue to a welcoming safe exit route and allow assisted rescue from the safe refuge.

Work started in May 2003 with the design of a full scale mock-up of an access ramp and refuge. Local emergency services also took part in assessing the optimum design to ensure the refuges would be fully accessible.

The main contractor on the project, which has also included the upgrading of the existing escapes to the surface at either side of the river, was Amco Donelon who were also extensively involved in the development of the final design for the project, providing alternative design proposals and constructability input to the design solutions.

At the Birkenhead end of the tunnel a 45 metre long, three metre diameter tunnel was bored through sandstone to provide additional access to the existing emergency staircase leading to the surface at Shore Road. Further improvements will include gantries throughout the tunnel to provide up to the minute driver information and emergency instructions via variable message displays.

The 2.23 mile Queensway Tunnel was opened in 1934 and is the longest tunnelled estuarial road crossing in the UK. It carries over 11 million vehicles a year.
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