What We Need from Intelligent Transport to Improve Driver Experience in Tunnels

We don’t give much thought to a road tunnel when passing through it – but there are a lot of systems behind the scenes from lighting, fire detection and suppression, ventilation, security and communications, and an overarching Operations Management Control System (OMCS) to ensure the infrastructure operates in a safe and efficient way.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) have offered a real benefit to the security, safety and communications management of road tunnel infrastructure, acting as an ‘all-seeing eye’. The systems inside the tunnels, can include management, traffic data, speed enforcement, emergency phones, Closed Circuit Television, Automatic Incident Detection, Public Address and Radio Rebroadcast. Outside of these, tunnel systems can include advanced traveller information, barrier gates, Over Height Vehicle Detection, Hazardous Goods Vehicle Detection and Hot Vehicle Detection.


The main objective of these systems is to provide support to the operations of the tunnel and contribute to an integrated, safe, responsible and sustainable transport system and an overall good experience for drivers.


Here, Nitin Wazir, WSP’s Intelligent Transport Executive for NSW, discusses the elements ITS technology that should be considered mission-critical for road tunnels.


He says, “ITS – not only aids with the efficient operations of our road network – but it also enables us to detect incidents earlier, helping to save lives and minimise infrastructure damage.


“For tunnel incidents, time is even more critical as the space is more confined and subject to greater smoke and fire hazards, as well as increased periods of traffic congestion resulting from incidents.


“Because this information is so valuable, tunnel ITS must be resilient to failure and achieve a high degree of full system availability.”


Airport Link

The Imperative for Resilient Tunnel System ITS

How do we make our tunnel system ITS resilient to failure? Nitin says that it should be assured through the deployment of multiple levels of redundancy and back-ups, which include:

  • Device redundancy – Any given functionality must be performed by more than one device, i.e. if one device fails, the next upstream or downstream device must be able to provide an equivalent functionality.
  • Communications redundancy – Consecutive devices must not be connected to the same network interface. Usually this functionality is achieved by installing two network rings totally independent.
  • Power redundancy – All mission critical devices need to be available in case of power source failure. In general, all the ITS devices are connected to an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to ensure at least 60 minutes of operation in case of power source failure.
  • Server redundancy – To achieve availability, the provision of device, communications and power redundancy may not be sufficient. The OMCS  servers must be tolerant to failures like Failure-Tolerant (FT) or High-Availability (HA) depending on the system.


“An additional level of redundancy can be achieved if one given function is performed by different means,” adds Nitin. "For example, communication to users can be achieved via PA messages or messages displayed in variable message signs.”


Waterview Connection

Future Considerations

The technologies behind ITS are continuously evolving, getting more powerful and affordable.


“Small upgrades have already enabled technology to perform on-board analysis through video including safety distance control, identification of hazardous goods, over-heated vehicle detection systems and land departure systems,” explains Nitin.


“Additionally, New Mobility solutions  offer great potential to support the transformation of road tunnels into ‘Smart Tunnels’ helping improve safety on both roads and in tunnels. Connected Vehicles in particular, are positioned as the next natural step within the new ITS ecosystem for tunnels.


“As ITS evolves we will need to have additional layers of intelligence to our infrastructure – functionalities such as variety of incidents detected, on-board CCTV video analysis, deep learning to improve accuracy and reduce false detections. All these functionalities must still be managed by an operator who will need to be familiar with how the technologies work together to make decisions. The machines are not taking over (yet).”


Nitin’s paper, ‘ITS – The all-seeing eye – to improve road tunnel management and user safety’ was accepted as part of the 26th World Road Congress to be held in Abu Dhabi from 6 – 10 October 2019.


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