The National Academies

NCHRP 20-67 [Completed]

Making Transportation Tunnels Safe and Secure

  Project Data
Funds: $200,000
Research Agency: Science Applications International Corporation
Principal Investigator: Irfan Oncu
Effective Date: 9/13/2004
Completion Date: 4/30/2006


The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, increased awareness of security issues. Transportation facilities are particularly vulnerable to attacks that could lead to loss of life and disruption of vital rail and highway access. Accordingly, transportation tunnel security and safety issues have become more important in the national security dialogue.

The traveling public relies upon the security and safety of highway and rail tunnels on a daily basis. Therefore, it is essential that steps be taken to protect these important assets. Research is needed to develop guidelines to improve the operational and structural security and safety of transportation tunnels and associated underground infrastructure such as vents, stations, and electrical substations.


The objective of this research is to develop safety and security guidelines for owners and operators of transportation tunnels to use to identify (1) critical locations; (2) potential structural improvements; (3) operational countermeasures; and (4) deployable, integrated systems for command, control, communications, and information. The guidelines should be applicable across the spectrum of both accidental and intentional threats.

Accomplishment of the project objective will require at least the following tasks.



Task 1. Describe the primary and secondary safety- and security-related threats to transportation tunnels and associated underground infrastructure.

Task 2. In light of Task 1, prepare or assemble in-depth case studies reflecting the range of recent worldwide extreme events occurring in transportation tunnels and associated underground infrastructure. These may include events such as the Kings Cross Station fire; Mont Blanc tunnel fire; Channel Tunnel fire; Chicago abandoned freight tunnel flood; NYCT Fulton Street Station bomb; Tokyo sarin attack; NYCT/LIRR Atlantic Avenue subway bombing plot; and the effects of the World Trade Center collapse on the PATH Hudson River tunnel. Case studies should be based on published literature. In addition to the case studies, prepare an annotated bibliography of technical papers or articles related to underground incidents.

Task 3. In the U.S. transportation system, tunnels have been constructed by a variety of methods (e.g., cut-and-cover, immersed tube). Describe the construction types and, for each type, identify factors (e.g., geologic medium, groundwater conditions, and depth below ground surface) affecting structural behavior in response to extreme events.

Task 4. Considering the results of Tasks 1 through 3, develop draft guidelines to be used by owners to identify critical locations in tunnel systems that, if lost or disrupted, have a significant effect on the operation and life safety effectiveness of the systems.

Task 5. Prepare an interim report providing the results of Tasks 1 through 4. The interim report shall include a detailed work plan for Phase 2.


Task 6. Identify and describe potential methods for making structural improvements at critical tunnel locations. These methods should recognize the limitations that may be imposed by the operating environment in a given tunnel. Interior and exterior improvements should be considered.

Task 7. Taking an all-hazards approach, identify and describe countermeasure opportunities that may be included in safety and security plans for the range of extreme events identified in Phase 1.

Task 8. Based on Task 7, develop guidelines for a deployable, integrated system for tunnel (a) communications, (b) surveillance, (c) access control, (d) monitoring, and (e) fire life safety applications, including primary and secondary command, control, and communication locations. The guidelines should include information sharing with multiple tenants, owners, first responders, and other government agencies.

Task 9. Develop recommendations for further research on tunnel safety and security, including design of new facilities.

Task 10. Submit a final report that documents the entire research effort. In addition, provide a companion executive summary that outlines the research results.

Note on Funding: NCHRP is funding this project with $200,000, and TCRP Project J-10G is co-funding this project with a matching $200,000.

Status: Research is completed. The final report has been published as NCHRP Report 525 / TCRP Report 86, Volume 12.

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