Sensors used to Monitor Structural Damage in a Railway Tunnel

Railway tunnels are crucial infrastructure components that must remain safe and operational at all times. However, like any other man-made structure, they are susceptible to damage from external factors, such as seismic activity, floods, and landslides.


Introduction to Sensors for Structural Health Monitoring

Structural health monitoring (SHM) refers to the process of assessing the health and safety of structures through the use of sensors. Sensors are devices that can detect physical changes in a system and convert them into electrical or digital signals. They can be used to measure various parameters such as temperature, strain, displacement, settlement, and acceleration, among others. In the case of railway tunnels, SHM involves the use of sensors to detect and assess any changes or abnormalities in the tunnel's structure and report them to a control center.


Types of Sensors Used in Railway Tunnels

1. Strain gage: Strain gage are used to detect changes in the stress and strain of a material. They can be installed on the tunnel's side walls, and crown and used to monitor any deformations that may occur due to external forces.

| Strain Gages for tunnel monitoring: EDS-20V-E and EDS-20V-AW |

2. Extensometers: Extensometers are commonly used in tunnel monitoring to measure the displacement of the surrounding rock or soil as a tunnel is excavated. This information is critical for assessing the stability of the tunnel and the safety of the workers. By monitoring the displacement with extensometers, engineers can detect any potential instability in the tunnel's surrounding rock or soil. They can also evaluate the effectiveness of any stabilization measures that have been put in place, such as grouting or shotcreting.

| Extensometers for tunnel monitoring: Multipoint borehole extensometers (EDS-70V) |

3. Accelerometers: Accelerometers are sensors that measure acceleration, low-frequency vibration, motion, or shock. They can be used to detect changes in the tunnel's vibration or detect any sudden movements that may indicate structural damage. Accelerometers can be installed at different points in the tunnel, such as the entrance, exit, or along the tunnel's length.

| Accelerometers for tunnel monitoring: 3 Axis Digital Accelerometer |

4. Temperature Sensors: Temperature sensors are used to monitor the temperature of the tunnel's walls, ceiling, or floor. They can be used to detect any hotspots or temperature variations that may indicate a structural issue. Temperature sensors can be installed using various methods, such as thermocouples, and resistance temperature detectors (RTDs).

| Also Read: Temperature Sensors: Types, How It Works, & Applications |

5. Piezometers: In tunneling, water pressure is an important factor to monitor because it can affect the stability of the tunnel. High water pressure can lead to seepage, which can destabilize the surrounding rock or soil and increase the risk of collapse or other safety hazards.

Piezometers work by inserting a small tube or sensor into the ground to measure the pore water pressure in the surrounding soil or rock. This data can then be used to monitor any changes in water pressure over time and to help identify any potential problems before they become more serious.

| Piezometers for tunnel monitoring: EPP-30V |

6. In-place Inclinometers: In-place Inclinometers (IPIs) are used for monitoring the sub-surface lateral movement of earthworks. They can be used to detect any changes in the ground surrounding the tunnel's alignment. This provides a pre-alert on any damage or deformation that may affect the tunnel structure. IPIs are often installed in arrays at both sides of the tunnel or outside the excavation areas.

| In-place Inclinometer for tunnel monitoring: In-place inclinometer (EAN-52M) |

7. Pressure Cell (Shotcrete and Concrete):

(a) Shotcrete Pressure Cell: This is used to measure the pressure required to apply shotcrete to the tunnel's surrounding rock or soil. This information is important because it can provide insight into the stability of the tunnel's surroundings. If the pressure required to apply the shotcrete increases over time, it could indicate that the surrounding rock or soil is becoming less stable and may require additional reinforcement. By continuously monitoring the pressure required to apply shotcrete, engineers can assess the effectiveness of the stabilization measures and take corrective action as needed.

| Shotcrete Pressure Cell for tunnel monitoring: ESC-30V |

(b) Concrete Pressure Cell: A concrete pressure cell, on the other hand, is used to monitor the pressure of the concrete used to line the tunnel. These cells are typically placed at various points along the tunnel lining and provide continuous data on the pressure of the concrete as it is poured and cured. By monitoring the pressure of the concrete, engineers can assess the stability of the tunnel and identify any potential issues, such as cracking or shifting.

| Shotcrete Pressure Cell for tunnel monitoring: EPS-30V-C |

8. Other Sensors

  • Surface settlement points (ESMP-10) to monitor ground settlement above the tunnel alignment.
  • Prism targets (ERT-20P2) to monitor convergence inside a tunnel


Advantages of Using Sensors for Structural Health Monitoring:

The use of sensors for SHM has several advantages over traditional inspection methods. These include:

1. Near real-time monitoring: Sensors provide near real-time data on the tunnel's structural health, allowing operators to identify any issues as they occur.

2. Continuous monitoring: Sensors can provide continuous monitoring of the tunnel's structural health, which means that any changes or abnormalities can be detected immediately.

3. Cost-effective: Sensors can reduce the cost of inspections by eliminating the need for manual inspections or regular maintenance.

4. Accurate: Sensors can provide accurate and precise measurements, which means that any changes or abnormalities can be detected at an early stage before they become critical.

Read more: A Guide on Structural Health Monitoring (SHM)


How Sensors are Used in Practice

Sensors are typically installed at regular intervals along the tunnel's length and connected to a data acquisition system (DAS). The DAS collects data from the sensors and sends it to a control center for analysis. The control center uses various software tools to analyze the data and identify any abnormalities or changes in the tunnel's structural health.
In practice, sensors are used to detect a variety of structural issues, such as cracks, deformations, vibrations, temperature variations, and changes in inclination. For example, strain sensors can monitor strain or deformations in the tunnel's walls or ceiling, while accelerometers can detect vibrations or sudden movements that may indicate structural damage. Temperature sensors can detect hotspots or variations in temperature that may indicate a problem, and shotcrete Pressure Cells can detect changes in radial and tangential stresses in shotcrete tunnel linings that may help to determine whether the lining is thick enough to maintain the stability of the tunnel.

Once the sensors detect an issue, the control center can take appropriate action, such as scheduling maintenance or repairs or closing the tunnel to prevent further damage. In some cases, the control center may also use predictive analytics to forecast potential issues based on historical data and take preventive measures before they occur.



Sensors are an essential tool for monitoring the structural health of railway tunnels. They provide near real-time and continuous tunnel monitoring, allowing operators to detect and address any issues as they occur. The use of sensors for SHM is cost-effective, accurate, and efficient, and can reduce the need for manual inspections and regular maintenance. By detecting and addressing structural issues early, sensors can help ensure the safety and reliability of railway tunnels for years to come.



Q1. How often do sensors need to be replaced in railway tunnels?
Ans: The lifespan of sensors depends on various factors such as the type of sensor, its installation location, and the operating conditions. Typically, sensors can last for several years before needing to be replaced.

Q2. Can sensors detect all types of structural damage in railway tunnels?
Ans: While sensors are effective in monitoring various parameters that may indicate structural damage, there may be some issues that require manual inspection or other methods for detection.

Q3. Are there any privacy concerns with the use of sensors in railway tunnels?
Ans: Sensors used for SHM are typically installed in public areas and do not collect any personal data or information, so there are no privacy concerns.

Q4. Who is responsible for monitoring the sensors in railway tunnels?
Ans: The control center or operations team is responsible for monitoring the sensors and analyzing the data.

Q5. Are there any regulations or standards for the use of sensors in railway tunnels?
Ans: There are various regulations and standards that govern the use of sensors for SHM in railway tunnels, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards.

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