December 5, 2007 QinetiQ has developed specialized remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with fire fighting capabilities that can operate in environments that would be unsafe for firefighters. Currently undergoing a six month trial commissioned by Network Rail and the London Fire Brigade, the vehicles are designed to combat the specific issue of fires close to railway tracks that involve Acetylene cylinders - a problem that has been on the rise in the past year causing major delays to commuters.
The all-terrain ROVs are equipped with cameras that can identify whether any Acetylene cylinders and access whether the cylinders are sufficiently cool for the Brigade to safely approach them using thermal imaging. When an Acetylene gas cylinder explodes it can create a dangerous fireball and spray debris as far as 200m and the risk of explosion can remain long after the fire is extinguished. The ROV option therefore offers significant time-savings over the conventional response procedure, which requires that a hazard zone of up to 200m is set-up and often left in place for more than 24 hours.
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The QinetiQ’s response team consists of a special vehicle containing the three different ROVs with operators - Talon, a small, highly manoeuvrable tracked vehicle, extensively used in Iraq for bomb disposal, that’s equipped with video and thermal image cameras; Black Max which is similar in size and appearance to a quad bike which again has a video link camera but also provides a remote hi pressure hose and water delivery capability; and the Brokk 90, a heavier duty mini-digger based vehicle designed to remove debris and gain access to vehicles or structures and therefore any cylinders.
“We are very conscious of the fact that fires involving suspected or actual Acetylene gas cylinders have caused misery to passengers. In situations such as this we have only closed lines when we have had no other choice and been advised to do so by the emergency services. However, the deployment of the ROVs will give us more options for faster resolution of incidents and hopefully lead to less disruption to train services,” said Derek Holmes, Network Rail’s Head of Operations.
The trial began in September and so far the ROV response team has been deployed on six occasions.