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Wireless works its magic

When Pierre-André Couture was approached to deliver a security systems solution for VIA Rail’s heritage railway station in Quebec City, he quickly realized that wireless access was the only natural fit.


September 12, 2007
By Luis Millan

VIA Rail, an independent Crown corporation established in 1978 that operates trains in all regions of Canada serving over 4.1 million passengers annually, began introducing two years ago a range of new security policies, guidelines and measures following on the heels of a report by an outside consultant.

The Gare du Palais, an imposingly massive station inaugurated in 1916 and designed in the French Château style like the historic Chateau Frontenac, was one of the railway stations  subjected to a security upgrade. Located by the harbour in picturesque old Québec, the architectural gem is adorned with a monumental and elegant hall, gilded with marble and terrazo floors, and built with especially thick walls made of brick, cement and stone. VIA sought, above all, to modernize the gated entrance, located at the back of the station, used by employees to make their to work.

Easier said than done. Replacing the existing access control system would have required hardwiring across the station, through the thick walls, and down to the basement to finally reach the gated entrance. Even it was feasible, it would have cost a fortune, says Couture, an executive with security systems distributor Acousti-Plus Inc.

“The Gare du Palais is a historic building, and so there were a number of constraints,” says Couture. “Its walls are huge and thick, and the building could not be defaced. Wireless therefore was the ideal solution. With wireless, we did not have to pierce the walls to wire it and run the risk of damaging the building.”

Wireless locking systems, such as the ones developed by lock manufacturer Schlage of multinational Ingersoll Rand, are beginning to become the installation of choice because it provides solutions to problems that might once have been impossible or impractical, says Frank Purcell of the Côté Fleury, a Quebec City security integration firm.

“Two years ago, we would never have been able to take on the VIA Rail contract because the technology to completely secure a gate did not exist,” says Purcell.

Today’s wireless systems, points out Purcell, have the same real-time access capabilities as wired systems at a fraction of the cost. Access privileges can be added or changed at the central control terminal from a common database, events can be recorded in real time by the host access control system, and unlike traditional wired installations, wireless transmissions are encoded using 128-bit private keys for heightened security.

The key is the panel interface module (PIM). It acts as the bridge between wireless access peripherals and online access control panels and systems. PIMs radiate in a 360-degree doughnut shaped pattern and are able to communicate with assigned wireless devices up to 200 feet indoors, and up to 1000 feet line of sight – or 4000 feet with optional antennas – for outdoor applications such as pedestrian or vehicle gate access. What’s more, signals can penetrate brick walls, cinder block walls, plasterboard walls and other non-metal walls.

“Traditional systems may be less expensive to purchase but are far more costly in terms of man-hours,” says Couture. ”With wired systems, you often incur additional costs because walls have to pierced, wires have to be installed, premises have to be painted. With wireless, all you have to do is install the kit on a server, place the antennas, and change the locks. That’s it.”