Going Underground: Why Great Tunnel Lighting Matters

Koen Van Winkel - Business Segment Manager - Schréder
Koen Van Winkel
Deputy Director, Marketing & Tunnel Business Segment Manager

It takes around 17 minutes to drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, 20 minutes to pass under the English Channel (or la Manche) by train and just moments to go through the tunnels on the Brussels Ring. But lighting them in a way that is safe, sustainable and sympathetic to drivers’ eyes is the result of decades of expertise. Together with my colleagues at Schréder, we’ve worked on tunnels from the frozen North to tropical forests, from the Mediterranean Coast to New York City.

Over the years, we’ve seen huge changes in vehicle and road design, experienced the LED revolution and seen customers’ priorities evolve, especially when it comes to energy efficiency. Now everything is changing again with the emergence of smart controls. LED lighting is now suitable for every part of road tunnels, including the entrance and exit, so smart systems can be deployed throughout, meaning real benefits in terms of energy use, emergency systems, and driver experience.

Our approach puts the customer at the heart of the process, and almost 80% of the solutions we provide now involve integrated lighting and controls. One recent project we’re particularly proud of is NorthConnex, a nine-kilometre long, two-tube, twin-lane tunnel in Sydney. One of the longest tunnels in Australia, it allows motorists to bypass 21 sets of traffic lights along Pennant Hills Road, cutting journey times by 15 minutes.

Schréder's smart lighting solution ensures safety with a low carbon footprint for NorthConnex Tunnel

It boasts artwork, changing visual displays and unique lighting features to keep drivers engaged as they travel; the installations were informed by a research partnership between Transurban, Transport for NSW, The University of NSW and AustRoads, and made reality by Schréder, its Australian distributor Betacom, and Phoenix Contact. 

Listening to their vision, we installed just over 1,100 OMNISTAR and 5,000 GL2 Compact luminaires controlled by the ATS 4 system to deliver a bright white light that guarantees high uniformity on the road and optimal visibility to ensure comfort, safety and perfect visual guidance. Thanks to the Plug-and-Play luminaires, and cables with ‘Quick-on’ connectors, the installation was even up and working ahead of schedule!

Investing in Expertise

Tunnel lighting is much more complicated than traditional road lighting. You need to know how light will work with pavements, walls (tiled or not), create uniformities, calculate reflections, and create a smooth, safe entry and exit. Our biggest USP is that we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. I’m going to sound like a geek, but I’ve recently been paid the biggest compliment in the industry: 

How do you manage to get your lighting curve so close to the standard drawn up by the International Commission on Illumination?

The International Commission on Illumination, usually known as the CIE, sets global standards for lighting - and it’s worth mentioning that Schréder colleagues are members of several committees, including the ones that specialise in tunnel and road lighting, reflecting our knowledge in this area.

The answer is hard work: we’ve just completed so many projects over the years, we know what it takes to get it right first time. In addition to the CIE recommended curve, many countries have local tunnel lighting standards, and our teams of technical and tunnel experts have in-depth knowledge on national and local regulations. Whether that’s the IES RP-22-11 tunnel lighting standard in North America, or German rules about stainless steel housing for luminaires, we work with the commissioning agency, contractors and other stakeholders to make sure they get the best result.

Given our expertise, we can even accommodate more unusual requests. The Maas Tunnel is an iconic piece of Dutch civil engineering: the country’s first immersed tunnel. Opened in 1942, made a national monument in 2012, celebrated with exhibitions and copied worldwide, this is no ordinary tunnel. It also needed a thorough refurbishment recently, and the city wanted to keep the amber hue of the original sodium lighting, while switching to LEDs for their energy saving benefits.

Schréder lit Maas Tunnel to ensure a safe tunnel for motorists while preserving the tunnel's heritage

In 2018, we created an ATS/Lumgate Controls system which enabled them to switch between the classic sodium glow during normal use, and bright white lighting if emergency services need to access the tunnel, neatly honouring the tunnel’s heritage while complying with the latest safety standards.

Take Back Control

The “black hole effect” in tunnel engineering refers to the sudden transition from light to darkness when drivers enter a tunnel, but it could equally refer to data about tunnel management. Advanced Tunnel System 4 (ATS 4), our powerful remote control system, changes that. Developed jointly with Phoenix Contact, it offers precise dimming, switching, data reporting, system monitoring and commissioning - you’ll no longer be in the dark about how systems  are running.

It was the perfect option for the Brussels Capital Region when they extensively renovated the recently renamed Annie Cordy Tunnel. The longest road tunnel in Belgium, the 2.6km link is a major traffic artery, with 80,000 vehicles passing through every day. Work included structural repairs, roadway reconstruction, the construction of technical premises, waterproofing, ventilation and asbestos removal, as well as full lighting replacement.

Smart, sustainable lighting improves safety while reducing operating costs for Annie Cordy Tunnel in Brussels

The new lighting had very clear objectives: optimise energy consumption with LED lighting and a control system, reduce maintenance costs by 50%, and improve user comfort and safety. ATS was ideal to ensure this: depending on the time of day or night, the traffic density or daytime light levels, Brussels Capital Region’s centralised tunnel management system can adapt the lighting instantly. In addition, the customer set variable dimming scenarios for the night to further save energy.

Asking me which is my favourite tunnel is like asking someone “which is your favourite child” - it’s impossible to choose! Every project brings unique challenges, a different set of conditions to work with, and new specifications. With the innovations in control systems transforming the way we light tunnels all over again, I can’t wait to see what comes next. So get in touch! 

About the writer
Koen joined Schréder in 2008, with a solid experience in engineering to market control systems which were slowly gaining momentum in the lighting industry. He was instrumental in developing our smart lighting systems for both roads and tunnels, offering pragmatic advice. Indeed, with his experience and knowledge, he took control of the Group Sales Support to accompany many customers on this journey. Today, he is also bringing his valuable expertise to the tunnel lighting market, expanding our service offering and delivering projects worldwide.

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