March 2010 in Network Rail and Suppliers
A driver is concerned about poor ventilation in Standedge tunnel, Huddersfield, leading to the inhalation of diesel exhaust fumes.
The reporter estimates ten trains run through the tunnel every hour during the daytime, many of which are diesel locomotives, causing fumes to build up. The main issue is that drivers are inhaling fumes through instruments in the cab that are designed to bring in air from outside. Consequently, cab heaters are turned off whilst driving through the tunnel to ensure the fumes do not enter the cab environment.
There is a further concern about passenger safety. In an emergency situation, if passengers had to evacuate a train and stand in the tunnel, it could become dangerous inhaling the fumes. The problem is worst during the day. The reporter believes the build up of fumes may be caused by ventilation problems as there appears to be no vents in the tunnel. The reporter would like Network Rail to assess the tunnel for build-up of diesel fumes and, if needed, a fume extraction system to be installed.
Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for bringing their concerns to our attention. Contrary to the reporter's belief Standedge tunnel has eight shafts, each roughly double the diameter of most ventilation shafts. They are all above the canal tunnel, which is alongside and slightly below the rail tunnels. In addition to the eight shafts, there are eighty cross passages connecting the canal. Two disused and one 'live' rail bore. The passage of trains produces considerable movement of air so it is constantly refreshed. As diesel is heavier than air any contamination will settle towards the canal. British Waterways Board (BWB), who own and operate the canal, and use the disused centre bore for access, have recently carried out air quality tests which, with a minor exception, show the air to be clean in the canal. The minor exception is when road vehicles or generators are left running and stationary localised low oxygen levels are recorded for short periods. These only occur in the canal bore.
Standard practice is to evacuate any tunnel immediately should the need arise for passengers be taken off a train. There is a Major Incident Response Plan written by Network Rail in conjunction with the emergency services, local authorities, train or freight operating companies and the BWB. Regular training exercises and reviews are carried out. Standedge tunnel is also covered in the Sectional Appendix.