Working safely in hazardous tunnels - Wirepas

Working safely in hazardous tunnels

ELA INNOVATION FOR SNCF (Click here to read in French)

SNCF (French National Railway Company) relies on Wirepas Massive to guarantee the safety of its technicians during maintenance work in tunnels

Our partner ELA Innovation is a supplier of wireless sensors and beacons. Their Bluetooth low energy and Active RFID beacons and sensors are made with ultra-low power consumption and extended battery life in mind.
When maintenance work is done in the tunnels of SNCF, the French railway giant, the technicians working underground must be reachable to be alerted and evacuated in the event of danger. To guarantee the safety of its staff, SNCF relies on the equipment provided by the manufacturer ELA Innovation, which has integrated the IoT connectivity suite Wirepas Massive into its devices.

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installation sncf castor 4 BW.jpg
Alert and evacuate SNCF technicians in the event of danger in the RER tunnels

SNCF (French National Railway Company), created in 1937, is one of the world's leading passenger transport and freight logistics groups. The French railroad leader relies on sustainable transport solutions and undertakes ongoing improvement projects. As of 2016 and for eight consecutive years, SNCF has planned work on the regional train RER C in Paris during the summer holidays for two months. On this occasion, around 500 workers find themselves in an eight-kilometer tunnel with 30 different entrances and exits to carry out work to respond to the increase in traffic and the aging of the infrastructure.
However, this maintenance and modernization work is not without danger. The tunnel is large, and the risks of collapse, ruptured gas pipes, flooded water pipes, fires, and other deadly hazards exist.
SNCF must be able to rely on a technology capable of communicating the location of its technicians in real-time, making it possible to alert them and put them to safety in the event of danger. Until the deployment of the Wirepas Massive technology embedded in ELA Innovation's equipment, SNCF had not been able to rely on appropriate technology over a longer-term. The inability to use a wired network in the tunnels urged SNCF to turn to an easily deployable indoor wireless solution.

The winning partnership between ELA Innovation and Wirepas

In 2018, Wirepas joined forces with ELA Innovation. This electronic equipment manufacturer supplies 100% automatic sensors and beacons, equipped with batteries, which can last up to 20 years depending on use. Available in different sizes and shapes, these beacons, embedding Wirepas technology and called "anchors", attach to the tunnel's walls and adapt easily, thanks to different brackets allowing them to be installed on any surface with wiring-free installation.
Thanks to the Wirepas technology, the installation of the beacons is done without any wires, allowing the system to be deployed over several kilometers of tunnels. Without this, miles of cables would have had to be pulled, resulting in a prohibitive installation cost. So instead, a total of 320 anchors are placed on the tunnel walls at 25-meter intervals. In addition, the 480 technicians present on the site are equipped with a 100% anonymous mobile beacon, put on the construction helmet or as a key ring so that they can be alerted and geolocated at any time in the event of danger.
Wirepas provides essential information such as the location of individuals and allows to locate assets or people on different floors or zones of a building.
Together, Wirepas and ELA Innovation are creating an integrated solution, combining beacons, anchors, and low-energy gateways powered by a battery and ensuring personnel safety in underground tunnels.
"I had experienced other solutions before and was happy to find the ELA Innovation solution particularly easy to use. We are happy to keep the solution," declares Edouard Galand, Project Manager at SNCF.

A mesh connection without a risk of failure

As a first step, a battery-powered anchor is attached to the tunnel wall every 25 meters, and gateways by SolidRun, a partner of Wirepas and ELA innovation, are placed near each entrance and exit of the tunnel. Next, SNCF technicians are equipped with a beacon on their hard hats or as a key ring. Sensors are installed in the beacons allowing them to emit signals every 30 seconds to the various anchors present in the surrounding area. These beacons create a wireless mesh network allowing data to be traced to the nearest gateway. This same gateway transmits the raw data to the client server, where the information is transformed into GPS data by the positioning tool developed by Wirepas. The data, externalized by the GPS, can be viewed on DataViz, an application by a software publisher Synox, representing the position of workers on the site and different zones.
The workers can be warned by a signal sent through the mobile beacons in danger. When the alarm goes off, the anchors of the LED lights guide the workers to an exit.


The Wirepas technology is efficient, quick, and easy to install, thanks to the wireless anchor infrastructure. The installation in the SNCF tunnel took place between 1 am, and 4 am over ten days. In total, it took 30 hours for the 8 kilometers. This installation method saved the on-site activities from all disruption. Since the devices themselves act as routers, there's no need for GPS or 3G – hence this operation requires virtually no infrastructure. Thanks to different mounting brackets, moving the installation as the work progresses is also simplified, making the total cost even less expensive.
As a result of the new system, evacuation training and processes have also been made easier.

Handling work in 100% secure tunnels

Thanks to the 100% reliable and affordable technology, SNCF operators knew where their personnel was in real-time throughout the work period, without interruption, thus reinforcing the safety of technicians. In addition, this enabled better management of resources and service providers present on the site. SNCF has deployed the solution on other sites in Greater Paris after the positive results on the first deployment.

Contact our specialist

This is Eden Suire, our expert. He can tell you more about the case and our expertise in this field.

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Eden 4_5.png
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