Safer underwater tunnels are a step closer to being realized after a recent West Virginia University research demonstration that drew attendees from across the nation to Morgantown.

The test incorporated a specially constructed, full-scale tunnel section model and an inflatable plug, which could eventually be used to protect underwater rail transit systems from flooding, smoke or fumes.

More than 30 guests attended the demonstration, including representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology, Infrastructure and Geophysical Division, which funds the project as part of an overall effort aimed at infrastructure resiliency. Also present were members of the Transportation Security Administration, which provides the primary interface with transit agencies, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which provides overall project management and coordination.

Additionally, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which represent potential end users of the technology, attended the demonstration. Industry representatives, whose companies developed materials for the project, were also present.

The project is currently in its second phase of development. In phase one, a first-generation inflatable test plug was successfully deployed inside the WMATA system in Washington, DC.

“We learned a lot from the data collected during the WMATA test and the small-scale demonstrations,” said Julio Davalos, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) professor and project leader. “In this latest test, we demonstrated the plug’s enhanced conformity, reduced inflation time and tunnel sealing effectiveness,” he said.

DHS Program Manager John Fortune praised the project’s impressive and rapid evolution and noted the cooperation and coordination of the various organizations involved. Other participants included WVU Associate Vice President for Research & Economic Development Mridul Gautum; CEE Chair Radhey Sharma; Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Chair Jacky Prucz; Project Coordinator Eduardo Sosa; and several research faculty, students and support staff.


Contact: Diana Martinelli
304-293-3505, ext. 5420 (office), 304-216-5635 (cell)