Safety is the top priority in rail operations, especially in tunnels. The project has two special features: firstly, it involves building Germany’s longest railway tunnel, and secondly, it is a cross-border project between two countries, meaning all consultation must also involve the Czech state authorities, the Ústí nad Labem District and the Czech railway administration Správa železnic.
According to the Federal Railway Authority’s guideline on fire and disaster protection in railway tunnels, separate tunnel tubes must be provided for tunnels that are longer than 1,000 m and used by mixed traffic. A prohibition on freight and passenger trains meeting each other means that double-track tunnels are no longer permitted. The minimum spacing (centre to centre) of the tunnel tubes is 24.70 m due the rescue passages to be installed between them.
The Erzgebirge Base Tunnel will have cross-passages for emergency use at 500 m intervals and an underground emergency stopping point near the middle of the tunnel, as required by EU regulations. In an emergency, passengers can reach the safe tunnel tube on the opposite side via the cross-passages and emergency stopping point.
Passing points must be planned and provided. As things stand, these should be located outside the tunnel tubes for safety reasons. For tunnels of 25 km or longer, a passing station must be provided before and after the tunnel. Before and after the passing loop, crossovers between the main running lines must also be provided (allowing bidirectional working).
The arrangement of passing loops for freight trains (length of at least 740 m and turnouts (with a design speed of ve = 80 km/h) along with crossovers (ve = 100 km/h) before and after the turnouts to enable bidirectional working) means that the total length of the passing stations will be approximately 1,030 m on straight track and approximately 1,100 m on curved track. The maximum longitudinal gradient in passing stations is 0.25% (1:400).
In terms of the required safety measures, the relevant guidelines and standards for the construction of new railway tunnels in Germany, Austria and Switzerland generally relate to tunnel lengths of up to 20 km. In very long tunnels, the time a train takes to pass through the tunnel exceeds its maximum running capability under full fire conditions (15 minutes at a minimum speed of 80 km/h [TSI LOC&PAS]). Very long tunnels therefore require special safety measures to be defined on a case-by-case basis [Directive of the Federal Railway Authority: “Anforderungen des Brand- und Katastrophenschutzes an den Bau und den Betrieb von Eisenbahntunneln”].
The length of the emergency stopping areas depends on the maximum length of a passenger train. The safety aspects of the new trans-Alpine rail tunnels in Europe (Lötschberg, Gotthard, Brenner, Semmering and Koralm Tunnels) are presented in various publications (e.g. “Comparison of safety and ventilation aspects of emergency stations in very long railway tunnels” in Geomechanics and Tunneling (2013), No. 6). Given the similar tunnel length and the fact the Koralm Tunnel is currently under construction, the planned emergency stopping points in the Koralm Tunnel are being highlighted as an example for the new Dresden–Prague line project.