Exercise tests emergency response at Johnstones Hill road tunnels north of Auckland


A large team of emergency services have successfully tested the systems to respond to a multi vehicle crash and fire inside the Johnstones Hill tunnels on SH1 north of Auckland.

A simulated multi-agency exercise led by the NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Motorway Alliance involved closing the twin road tunnels on the Northern Gateway Toll Road for several hours on Monday night (August 17).

The NZ Transport Agency’s State Highways Manager Brett Gliddon who monitored the exercise from within the tunnel says the well co-ordinated and effective response was impressive and shows the importance and value of carrying out regular training.

“Tunnels present particular challenges and risks because of the confined space, and more restricted access and escape routes. That’s why we equip road tunnels with high levels of safety systems. These include fire detection, camera monitoring, high pressure water suppression, ventilation and smoke fans.”

“The systems are operated and monitored 24 hours a day but we also need to train with them and test that they are in good condition, reliable and do the job they’re designed to do, which is keeping people safe inside the tunnels and on the roads around them.”

Mr Gliddon says the exercise is also valuable in training the Transport Agency’s traffic management teams to deal with incidents efficiently and safely so delays can be minimised for other motorists.

There are relatively few incidents in tunnels but the risk is real, with four crashes so far this year. They were all minor injury and disruption incidents but all of them could have developed into a more serious incident or fire without the right response.

Good driver behaviour is one of the key contributors to reducing the risk of incidents inside tunnels so the Transport Agency asks all motorists to take particular care when driving through any of the tunnels throughout New Zealand.


  • Stay alert
  • Stay in your lane and avoid lane changing
  • Keep your speed to within  the posted limit
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front
  • If you are involved in an incident in the tunnel :
    • Turn on your radio
    • Listen and follow instructions given on the Radio or over the  PA systems or messages displayed on signs
    • If the tunnel needs to be evacuated,  leave your car and go quickly to the places of safety as instructed and wait


The exercise scenario which involved people acting roles involved 2 cars colliding in the middle of the southbound tunnel.

The driver of one vehicle died on impact, the car was leaking petrol and then caught fire.

The driver of the second car was trapped and needed to be cut out of the vehicle.

A mini bus with 10 passengers as well as 8 other cars were also involved to simulate the usual traffic flows within the tunnel.