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RFID Improves Safety, Efficiency of Brisbane Tunnel Construction

As workers bore twin 4.8-kilometer tunnels, a system of active tags and readers allows the project's contractor to know the location of each its 1,700 employees, as well as its construction vehicles.
By Dave Friedlos
Jun 17, 2008A company in Queensland, Australia, is using radio frequency identification to improve safety for its employees during construction of one of the country's biggest road projects.

The North-South Bypass Tunnel Project is a $2 billion toll road that will link the two sides of Brisbane, divided by the Brisbane River. When completed in early 2010, the 6.8-kilometer road will be the longest road-tunnel in Australia.

The project's contractor is deploying RFID readers every 250 meters along the length of the tunnels.
RiverCity Motorway, the firm overseeing and financing the project, awarded Leighton Contractors and Baulderstone Hornibrook Bilfinger Berger Joint Venture (LBB JV) the contract to design and build the bypass's dual 4.8-kilometer-long tunnels (one for northbound traffic, the other for southbound). The joint venture turned to NLT Australia, a provider of underground lighting and digital communications solutions for the mining industry, to assist in developing and implementing a system that could locate any of its 1,700 staff in the tunnels.

NLT was contracted to install a digital network with an open standard Ethernet backbone capable of supporting two-way messaging, environmental monitoring and a real-time location system. It opted for an RFID system that transmits an employee's location to a wireless node, which forwards the data to bespoke software.

The RFID system uses Wavetrend dual active and passive tags. The tags' active transponders transmit at a frequency of 433 MHz and at a range of up to 8 meters, and can provide information according to location, time or individual details. The tags' passive inlays operate at 13.56 MHz MHz and contain NXP Semiconductors' Mifare chips, complying with the ISO 14443-A standard.

"This is a high-profile project, and the company can not afford any incidents," says NLT professional services manager Matt Macer. "It is a dangerous environment, with normal hazards of digging underground complicated by the presence of heavy machinery and lots of vehicle movements. The main benefit of an RFID system is that it allows the company to know who is in the tunnels, and where, at any time. The tunnel-boring machine [TBM] is more than 250 meters long, and there is a lot of work going on at any time across the length of the vehicle, so it is vital that the company can account for everybody underground."

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