State-of-the-art technology will be installed in the Saltash Tunnel over the coming months to ensure the safety of the thousands of people who use the underground route in Cornwall.

Highways England is starting a scheme next week to upgrade the incident detection system within the A38 tunnel, which will provide quicker and more reactive detection of vehicle fires and other incidents.

The scheme will see close to 5,000 metres of cable – equivalent to 415 double decker buses – installed inside the 410-metre long tunnel

New technology inside the 30-year-old tunnel will include Wayfinder emergency evacuation signs, and separate smoke and heat detection systems, all aligned to the Public Address system to direct drivers to the safest tunnel exit in the event of an incident.

The tunnel has a good safety history – a new PA and CCTV system was installed two years ago – and the new improvements will link into that to ensure drivers are alerted quicker and help Highways England and the emergency services to react quicker in responding to any potential incidents via the Tamar Bridge control room.

Once work is completed next year, Highways England plans to hold a joint emergency test exercise with the fire services and police.

Highways England spokesman Julian Strong said: “The current detection system is still operational but this essential upgrade is needed to meet current standards, and the work to integrate the different systems is innovative.

“This will enable automatic detection, without the risk of false alarms, and make the tunnel as safe as possible for all those who use it.

“The installation and connection of the cable is a complex procedure, the work will take place under overnight closures to minimise its impact on people, and we apologise in advance for any disruption.”

The £1.2 million scheme, financed from Highways England’s Innovation Fund, will start on Monday, 26 November and is scheduled to be completed in the spring. During that time, the tunnel will be closed on week nights from 8pm to 6am with a diversion route in place via the B3271.

There will be no closures during the Christmas period, 22 December to 6 January.

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