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October 16, 2012

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Scientists develop sensors for tunnels

SHANGHAI scientists say they are developing an intelligent sensor system to check for potential dangers, like cracks and water leaks, inside underground transport system tunnels.

The technology is expected to be used on the city's burgeoning Metro network in two years' time.

"Years into their service the problems with the subway system's structural safety have been exposed," said Zhu Hehua, a scientist and professor with Shanghai Tongji University.

Zhu said the technology is mainly based on the wireless sensor network that would cover the underground tunnel structure. The sensors can detect changes like tunnel deformation and leaks.

Shanghai has seen a rapid pace of subway construction and development in recent years, which has stretched the length of the local subway tracks to more than 425 kilometers and the length continues to grow.

The city will add another 175 kilometers of tracks to the local subway network of 11 lines over the next three years.

By 2015 the total subway track length is expected to reach 600 kilometers, a top traffic official said yesterday. During the 2011-2015 period, the city is to work on 16 Metro projects.

The Metro operator now mainly relies on regular manned inspections and wired sensors to check for problems.

"The new technology can save the usage of cables inside the tunnels," said Huang Hongwei, a professor with Tongji University, who is also working on the project. "We can arrange sensor spots using wireless equipment and save cost."

Huang said they have done experiments in the laboratory and will test it on the subway network within two years.

With more subway tracks being laid out, which means more commuters, the operational pressures on the Metro network are heavy, with safety the prime concern. The daily passenger volume on the subway amounts to more than 6 million now, a number which is likely to soar.

Passengers have complained that some new stations suffer problems of water leakage soon after they are put into use, as the operator battles the problem of uneven subsidence.


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