Control of Willemsspoortunnel to a higher level


Yunex Traffic is renewing the control system of the tunnel technical installations (TTI) in the Willemsspoortunnel on behalf of ProRail. A new stationary train detection system is also being implemented. The project takes the availability, safety and efficiency of the rail tunnel to a higher level.

The Willemsspoortunnel is a four-track tunnel under the Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam through which both freight and passenger trains pass. It is part of the railway connection between Rotterdam and Breda. The new control system for the tunnel technical installations will be built in accordance with the ProRail Tunnel Standard (PTS). Yunex Traffic stood at the cradle of this standard a few years ago. All railway tunnels under the management of ProRail will be converted to the PTS in the coming years. They thus comply with the European Technical Specification for Interoperability and can eventually be operated centrally. “The PTS creates uniformity in operation and provides more insight into malfunctions,” says Auke Sjoukema, project manager at ProRail. “It helps us to reduce unplanned nuisance on the track and to respond better to calamities.”

Train-free periods

Yunex Traffic's MEAT plan came out on top in the tender. “On the basis of such a plan, we estimate how well the contractor handles the situation and risks,” explains Sjoukema. “Contractors who do not often work on the track sometimes underestimate that they are only allowed to work during train-free periods (TVPs). This requires good planning, as you have to do all your work within a short period of time. We established the TVPs for this project two years ago. Utilizing it is a major challenge, because there are always projects that hitch a ride. The contractor must draw up a good (integrated) scenario. Fortunately, we have expert parties on board.”

Delivery times

During the first TVP at the end of January 2022, the tunnel was closed to train traffic for an entire weekend (52 hours). Yunex Traffic carried out assembly work, laid cables and a fiber optic connection to the technical area. “Unfortunately, due to the global material shortage, we were able to do less than planned,” says Jan-Willem Vreeswijk, project manager on behalf of Yunex Traffic. “For a number of things, we now have to hitch a ride on weekday TVPs in which we will always work in one tunnel tube. Our concern is always that the tunnel is available again for train traffic in accordance with the schedule. We do everything we can to be ready on time. However, it is currently extremely difficult to get fire-resistant material, copper, iron, chips and cables.” According to Sjoukema, the current supply problems can also be felt in other ProRail projects: “We look at how we deal with each situation. In our tenders we try to take the current delivery time problems into account as much as possible.”

Think ahead

At the end of January 2023, the Willemsspoortunnel will be closed again for a full weekend. Then the control software is implemented. Vreeswijk: “We want to convert in one big bang, so that the control system is ready for operation. We are currently working on the final design of the software. In the preparation phase, we thoroughly studied the current control software and performed a baseline measurement in the field to ensure that the I/O lists are correct. This year we are going to test the new controls at our location in Zoetermeer and in the tunnel. We then continue to build back to the end of January 2023. Then we convert in one go and deliver.” Prior to this 'big bang', Yunex Traffic is converting the outdated control system of an emergency power generator that causes nuisance to local residents if it starts incorrectly. Ten years ago, the aggregate was still in free space, but houses and offices have been built around it. “We took up this challenge early on with ProRail. We act as a committed and proactive partner and like to think ahead.”

Standstill Detection System

The tunnel technical control controls, among other things, the energy supply, (escape route) lighting, drainage pumps and ventilation in the tunnel. In addition, Yunex Traffic is implementing a new solution for detecting stationary trains. Sjoukema: “Our current detection system is quite rudimentary. We can only see in which quadrant a train is stationary. We want to refine this so that the fire brigade and other emergency services can better determine their approach route in the event of a calamity.” Yunex Traffic has already applied the new standstill detection solution in the rail tunnels in Delft and Barendrecht. Vreeswijk: “We work with high-quality ultrasonic sensors, which see the trains pass by and light up a row of LED lights on the panel in the control center. When the last light goes out, the train has passed. If the lights stay on, it's stationary. We can set the sensors from the technical room, so we don't have to go into the tunnel with a laptop to do this. This simplifies installation and maintenance.”

Constructive cooperation

As project managers on behalf of ProRail and Yunex Traffic respectively, Sjoukema and Vreeswijk have regular consultations. In addition, the lead engineers of both organizations are in contact with each other. They are positive about the collaboration. Vreeswijk: “Structural consultation is extremely important in these types of projects, you have to keep talking. There is always something about which the views differ, but in the end you have to do it together.”

Rail users will not notice anything of the new tunnel technical control, except in a positive sense. “The systems we automate lead to less unplanned nuisance,” concludes Sjoukema. “Among other things, they prevent (unjustified) malfunctions in the tunnel, so that no train is allowed through anymore. More importantly, they help us deal with calamities faster and better. With this we increase the availability of the rail and raise the safety, comfort and efficiency of rail transport to a higher level.”