New plan to enable GPS access in Sydney tunnels

16 August 2020

Plans to boost GPS signals in Sydney’s road tunnels are taking shape, which could help motorists, freight and emergency services navigate tunnels more accurately, quickly and safely.

Transport for NSW Deputy Secretary for Greater Sydney, Elizabeth Mildwater, said ‘repeaters’ are banned in tunnels but the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is considering changing the law to let the technology be used.

“As many motorists know, GPS signals don’t work in road tunnels because they lose the line of sight to satellites. Some vehicles use other technology but GPS is the most accurate and is used by emergency services,” Ms Mildwater said.

“The freight industry – one of the primary users of tunnels – also uses GPS to actively provide information on tracking and on-board communication. With the delivery of major tunnel projects across Sydney like WestConnex, NorthConnex, M6 Stage 1, Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link, it’s important we act as soon as possible.”

Transport for NSW has made a submission to the Federal regulator to install and trial re-transmission points inside tunnels to simulate satellite signals.

“Standard modern vehicles are equipped with more than 50 sensors, generating data referenced in time and space to a specific location,” Ms Mildwater said.

“Our innovative trial will investigate the effect of in-tunnel devices on receivers aboard emergency services vehicles, and other devices such as smartphones and GPS units.

“This is an opportunity to further modernise our infrastructure with potential benefits for IT, traffic management and control systems. A collaborative, nation-wide approach will transform the future mobility of people and goods and deliver vital safety outcomes.”

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Fewtrell said the boost in GPS signals could mean quicker response times should an emergency occur.

“With multiple entry and exit points to our tunnels it can be difficult to find the exact location of an incident. GPS data would mean our crews could instantly pinpoint these locations and reduce our response times,” Mr Fewtrell said.

“Anything that delays our response capability is likely to increase the risk to life and property so this is a huge step in the right direction for us to better protect the NSW community.”

GPS (Global Positioning System) signals are a type of radionavigation-satellite service (RNSS).  Re-transmission of RNSS signals are banned in Australia under the Radiocommunications Act 1992, due to the risk of interfering with other GPS signals.

ACMA is considering submissions to review the legislation. Transport for NSW, NSW Telco Authority, Fire & Rescue NSW, NSW Ambulance and NSW Police support this initiative.

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