Surrey emergency teams test response in Hindhead tunnel

Emergency exercise in Hindhead tunnel
Image caption Car drivers, played by actors, were walking outside to safety as the emergency services arrived

Emergency teams have tested their response to a major incident in the new Hindhead tunnel in Surrey.

Police, fire and ambulance crews dealt with a staged scenario involving 16 casualties from two separate vehicle crashes and a serious fire underground.

The £371m 1.2 mile (1.9km) structure on the London to Portsmouth A3 is one of England's longest underground tunnels.

Thousands of cars and lorries are expected to use the dual carriageway tunnel every day.

The emergency exercise involved 280 people.

'Unique opportunity'

After the staged incident half a mile inside the tunnel, car drivers, played by actors, began to walk outside to safety.

Paul Arnold, Highways Agency project director, said: "The fire service in a fire will be the first service there.

Image caption Statistics have shown a major incident can be expected in the A3 tunnel once every seven years

"They will obviously have to make the area safe before they will let the ambulance service in.

"So that's all part of the plan and, as we saw, people started walking out before the emergency services arrived and that's all part of the plan."

Statistics have shown that a major incident can be expected in the A3 tunnel once every seven years, and a minor incident will lead to a tunnel closure every three years.

Simon Moor, assistance chief officer at Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, said: "The opportunity to actually do it for real and test our assumptions is unique and very valuable."

The tunnel is due to open to traffic in three weeks' time.

It has been built to relieve traffic bottlenecks in the area and keep 30,000 vehicles a day away from the Devil's Punchbowl - a heathland site which is a special protection area for wild birds conservation.

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