Emergency Hyperloop scenarios: what to do in case of a fire?

All scenarios possible to occur within the Hyperloop system need to be handled as effectively as possible. To do so, critical scenarios must  be analyzed to form a comprehensive  evacuation plan. One of the scenarios that poses the biggest threat for the Hyperloop is a fire inside the pod. In collaboration with TUC RAIL the best practices from the railway sector are applied to compose an evacuation plan, used to provide a top-level approach in the case of emergencies. Moreover, fire hazards have been assessed to improve the fire safety of the Hyperloop system. 

Evacuation plan 

An evacuation plan is complex due to the many parties involved and the integral role it has in various aspects of the system. The evacuation plan comprises two sections, namely the measures in place before a scenario occurs and the steps taken between the moment an emergency occurs and measures are taken.  

The measures in place can be subdivided into use, organization and facilities. The use gives an indication as to Hyperloop operations and passengers. The organization refers to directly involved stakeholders. This ranges from passengers and maintenance staff to staff at control centers and emergency services. Finally, the available equipment and provisions necessary during an emergency are explained in facilities. This includes measures outside the Hyperloop infrastructure, in the tube and pod. 

The evacuation plan facilitates an efficient development between the moment an emergency takes place and measures are taken. This process consists of several steps, namely detection, data processing and execution. The Hyperloop system is constantly monitored, and when something out of the ordinary occurs this must be detected. After an event has been reported, whether it be autonomously or manually, the collected data is analyzed. By analyzing the input data, the event is linked to a specific scenario. Every scenario has a unique response plan providing a step-by-step plan on how to approach and solve the scenario. When the scenario is classified, the plan is put into motion. 

For every event there must be a single point of contact, responsible for overseeing the event and updating involved stakeholders. During the steps of detecting, processing and taking measures, as much as possible will need to occur autonomously to save time and compensate for potential human errors. However, some tasks cannot be automated. Due to the great impact certain decisions can have on operations, for example, interventions and decisions will need to be made by staff. 

Fire hazards 

Particularly in the Hyperloop, where pods are sealed off from the external environment, fire hazards pose one of the biggest challenges and threats to the safety of those involved. Within the Hyperloop, areas at atmospheric pressure are the most susceptible to fire. This includes stations, the pod interior, airlocks and evacuation routes. As the survivability diminishes significantly within minutes of ignition, various safety measures must be incorporated to prevent fire hazards and, in the unfortunate event of a fire, measures must be in place to detect and combat fire and smoke. 

To prevent fires many measures can be incorporated into Hyperloop infrastructure. Examples include compartmentalization, where possible depriving subsystems of oxygen and using flame retardant materials. However, the chance of a fire occurring cannot be annihilated regardless of safety measures. Measures need to be in place to suppress and mitigate the effects. This ranges between well-known measures, such as fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, to complex water mist and halon-gas systems.  

To determine which safety measures are most effective, a cost-benefit analysis is necessary. Furthermore, a computational fluid dynamic (CFD) analysis is necessary to investigate the spread of smoke and flames, thereby determining the survival time more accurately.  

A partnership between TUC RAIL and Delft Hyperloop was established to analyze fire hazards and set up a top-level evacuation plan for the Hyperloop. TUC RAIL is an engineering and project management firm specialized in railway technology. In many aspects the Hyperloop has similar characteristics to railway. Therefore, the best practices from the railway sector can be applied to the Hyperloop. A lot can be learned and applied from the railway sector, making this collaboration highly valuable. 

Leave a Reply