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Fire Down Below

A potential simulated disaster underground is essential for training fire fighters and emergency services.

For the first time in almost ten years a network of tunnels underneath Birmingham New Street station has been opened by Network Rail to allow West Midlands Fire Service to conduct just such a live training exercise.

Situated four metres beneath the station’s 12 platforms and spanning 132 metres in length, the tunnel, which closed in 2004, was previously used for Royal Mail postal trains to transport mail from the station out to regional sorting offices.

Says Crew Commander Mark Clifton of Highgate Fire Station White Watch, ‘As firefighters we train daily and we were extremely grateful to Network Rail for the chance to test ourselves and our methods in this unusual environment. The tunnels were a perfect place to test new breathing apparatus, which can be worn for virtually double the time compared to kit we usually use. Around 40 fire fighters from seven of our stations were involved in the two-hour exercise, which was based on a rescue scenario.’

When the station redevelopment is complete in 2015, railway staff will replace postal workers and fire fighters. The tunnel will be used to access staff accommodation and the CrossCountry Trains national rail catering centre.

Says Steve Lewis, Network Rail station manager, ‘The tunnel beneath New Street is part of the station’s wealth of history and I’m sure the thousands of passengers that travel above have no idea of the maze of tunnels that lie below and across the wider city. We were delighted to be able to offer our colleagues at West Midlands Fire Service the tunnel for their exercise.’

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