Swiss safety expert warns some tunnels are unprepared for Electric HGV fires

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Not all tunnels in Europe are prepared to deal with an electric HGV fire, warns an expert responsible for safety at the 17-kilometre-long Swiss Gotthard tunnel. He said such an incident would be an “absolute horror" and that the tunnel would have to be closed for days, and in some special cases, possibly even for weeks.

Swiss safety expert warns some tunnels are unprepared for Electric HGV fires
Photo credits @ Ato 01, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While the transport sector is strongly pushing towards replacing its existing fleet with zero-emission vehicles, the change needs to be supported by the road safety systems and especially tunnel safety technologies to ensure safety, stressed the deputy commander of the Gotthard damage control team, Beat Walther, in an article by the Swiss news outlet Tages Anzeiger.

Walther explained that if a lithium-ion battery is damaged, there is a risk of an internal short circuit which can spread from one battery cell to another.

Therefore, the battery must be continuously cooled for a long period of time. This is why electric car wrecks are kept in water basins. However, HGVs cannot be put into a tub that easily. Consequently, in the event of a serious fire involving an electric lorry, the Gotthard tunnel would probably have to remain closed for several days. If the vehicle was transporting a highly flammable load, it could even take weeks to be blocked, says Walther.

Dangerous gases are also produced when electric vehicles catch fire, the expert continues. While fire brigades are equipped to be able to cope with such a situation, there is more needed than that.

The article refers to research carried out by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) that states Swiss directives and standards do not deal with the potential impact of electromobility on tunnel safety.

“Even in the specifications of the Federal Roads Office for the ventilation and detection systems of a road tunnel, the effects of the increasing proportion of electric vehicles are not taken into account and therefore no risk-reducing measures are provided,” highlights the article.

Therefore, Walther would like to see more research into the safety of under-surface electric mobility and the applicable policies and technologies.

Photo credits @ Ato 01, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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