The Channel Tunnel provides essential transportation people and freight between France and England. In fact, more than 49,000 people per day use this tunnel which since its construction has been considered an engineering wonder of the modern age. Now, tunnel operator Eurotunnel is seeking to make a significant investment in the telecommunications network supporting the tunnel.
A recent Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) posting on its TrackTalk e-zine, Eurotunnel: Enhancing communications beneath the seafloor, highlights this initiative. It points out that the program will not only enhance interoperability between train engineers and tunnel traffic controllers but will also provide passengers with state-of-the-art on-board broadband connectivity. After 18 years of operation, the Eurotunnel is substantially upgrading its telecommunications network.
The aging technology and increased traffic levels are putting increasing amounts of pressure on the current communications network. To launch its initiative, Eurotunnel turned to Alcatel-Lucent as a strategic partner, granting them the opportunity to install Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in the tunnel. It also signed an agreement to share the French infrastructure central equipment Network Subsystem (NSS) until 2025.
“The business case for GSM-R was very straightforward because this is the European standard telecoms system for railways and it gave us interoperability with national networks,” explained Eurotunnel Communications Director John Keefe in TrackTalk. “This meant the priority was to find a good deal on the technology. Alcatel-Lucent put in the bid that suited us best because it offered simplicity of installation, robust equipment, and added value for our customers because it meant we could offer services that were not possible with the old system.
”As a result of GSM-R technology, the Channel Tunnel will be the first in the world to offer 3G connectivity. It will also support the installation of the ETCS (European Train Control System) to ensure a continued focus on safety when the current signaling system reaches the end of its useful life. This network is expected to be fully operational by the middle of 2014, with Alcatel-Lucent providing support of the GSM-R infrastructure for the first two years.
Likewise, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is set to be the world’s largest rail tunnel when it opens for business in 2016. According to this Alcatel-Lucent blog, AlpTransit Gotthard AG: The pivotal role of communications in tunnels, also a TrackTalk piece, the tunnel is set to be one of the most advanced in the world.
The communications, operations and safety systems in the tunnel are highly automated and require an efficient and comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure. Due to the complexity of this environment, the installation process involves a close degree of coordination among all contractors involved. The key to the safe operation of this tunnel and supported railways are the critical WAN infrastructure supporting the Tunnel Control Centre and supplying connectivity to the entire ecosystem.
“We want a safe operation for both people and freight, so efficient communications are essential in such a complex system,” said Josef Elmiger, chief engineering officer for railway infrastructure at AlpTransit Gotthard, in TrackTalk. AlpTransit Gotthard is responsible for the construction of the tunnel. “It’s a long tunnel, with many different zones and installations, so we must have high availability, and the systems must work all the time even under difficult conditions. The requirements are high, but this is essential for safe and reliable operations. And in case of incident it’s important to have the right information in the right place at the right time.
”To ensure this type of connectivity in communications, Elmiger only wants tried and true technology in this tunnel – nothing new or untested. Alcatel-Lucent will be responsible for installing the temporary and permanent telephony and radio systems. When the fixed systems are installed and have been thoroughly tested for performance and safety, the temporary systems will be removed. “We will start trial operations at the end of 2013,” said Elmiger. “This is to carry out preliminary running tests and correct any faults that may arise, including the telecommunications systems. They will be followed by another series of tests in October 2015, which should be complete by May 2016. In November 2016 we should have an unconditional operating license, ready for full operation when the tunnel opens to commercial traffic in December 2016.”
We read so much about the need to improve the customer experience. In the case of the upgrade of the communications network in the Channel Tunnel and the deployment of the new system in the AlpTransit Gotthard, there are actually three critical users whose experiences are being improved — the tunnel operating authorities and the railroads, the engineers and support people running the trains and providing passenger and freight support services, and the passengers as they traverse Europe without losing contact with business associates and loved ones.
Edited by Peter Bernstein