The Gotthard Base Tunnel is pioneering cutting-edge IoT technology

12/12/2016




Denise with AVA Digital Award

To mark the start of operations on the 11th December, Laurent Moureu, General Manager at ALE Switzerland GmbH points out the Gotthard Base Tunnel is not just a major engineering feat. It is also one of the first major global engineering projects to incorporate advanced IoT technology to transform the delivery of essential services. It uses a web of IoT devices to manage passenger and vehicle safety 24x7 in one of the world's most challenging operational environments.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel will transport some 9,000 passengers every day through the Alps at 250km per hour, and up to 260 freight trains – which are much longer and heavier than in the past.

When you include areas such as access tunnels and cross passages, we are actually talking about an area of approximately 152km that needs to be connected and secured. This area must be served by immensely reliable IP network connectivity throughout. Even minimal network disruption through inefficient data transfer or bottlenecking will have the potential to cause delays and even impact worker and passenger safety.

A lot of the technology is automated. This means that an extremely stable and reliable network for data is necessary to transmit essential operational data to and from the tunnel. An IoT environment relies on real-time communication between IP-enabled devices – the ’things’- to collect up-to-the-second operational data and provide tunnel operators the information they need to ensure all systems run smoothly and safely within the tunnel.

Mind the doors
The doors are just one example. If any of the doors leading to service areas or access tunnels are left open, the pressure caused by a high-speed passenger train is enough to cause considerable physical damage to systems within the tunnel. The IoT-connected tunnel monitors all the doors 24/7, automatically sending alerts to the control room if the doors are not secured when they need to be.

But when you also consider the sensors, surveillance cameras, ventilation and drainage infrastructure, communications, control and monitoring systems across the entire site, which are all sending or receiving real-time data, you can begin to see why reliable connectivity is so important.

Connecting the dots
It is up to the data network - or rather data networks, as there are separate networks in each of the two parallel tunnels - to bring all these IP-enabled end points of IoT together and transmit the data to the operators in the tunnel’s control centres. It must be resilient and able to operate at all hours and in all temperatures and environments. This means having data switches which go beyond the ordinary - designed to operate with uninterrupted traffic and zero communication errors in some of the harshest working environments.

It’s not fun in the middle of a Swiss mountain
The size of the tunnel complex and remoteness of some of the service areas means that many of the networking components must work in the middle of the tunnel for extended periods – far outside the safety of climate controlled data centres. But it’s not just the location. Parts of the tunnel can reach temperatures of up to 40°C and hit humidity levels of 70%, a far cry from the usual home of a data switch. 

Metal dust – Small particles, big problem
Then there is the dust. Even in normal enterprise environments dust and airborne particles can cause problems eventually, but inside the railway tunnel it can cause serious problems for network components, as metal dust is kicked out from the train’s brakes. Add to this the electromagnetic interference and vibrations caused by everyday operations and you have an environment that would severely limit the lifespan of standard switching equipment and cause mechanical failure.

The Gotthard Tunnel required a specialised hardened network with rugged components to ensure a reliable and secure network.

Built to last – The hardened network
The Gotthard tunnel showcases a hardened network. What do we mean by this? Firstly, it uses switches, access points and routers that offer embedded security, dynamic network performance tuning for real-time application delivery and reliable broadband IP connectivity as standard.

Then all this needs to be built using network hardware with industrial grade form-factors.

The job of designing and implementing the data network fell to the engineers at Alpiq InTec, who used over 450 ruggedized Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch® 6855 hardened LAN switches to create the backbone of the data network running through the tunnel. Low levels of preventative and corrective maintenance are an absolute must when installing a network up to 2.3km under a mountain. These switches use convection cooling which relies on a heatsink rather than a fan to keep cool, minimising the danger of metallic particles entering the unit and damaging the internal electrical components.

Going where standard networking cannot go
This specialised hardened network enables the Gotthard Tunnel to take IoT where standard networking cannot – guaranteeing the level of service required for the longest, safest and best connected tunnels in the world - transporting those 9,000 passengers every day in safety and comfort.

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Tracy Duprée                        tracy.dupree@al-enterprise.com                 T : 818 878 4408