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Network Rail is seeking private sector investment in its trackside fibre optic cable network in a deal that would enable performance, safety and connectivity benefits for passengers.

It could also save the taxpayer up to £1bn in costs and support the Government’s objectives to improve connectivity across Britain, including in rural areas.

As part of our initiative to create a safer, more modern and digitally-connected rail network, this ambitious plan aims to secure the funding necessary to upgrade telecoms infrastructure along the rail network in an innovative way without relying on subsidies from government or passengers.

Over 16,000km of data cables next to the railway – carrying information essential to running the railway such as signalling for trains, trackside sensors, CCTV, and internet for trains, railway depots and offices – are due to be upgraded.

An historic network; connecting to the future

These fibre optic cables are state of the art – so much so that there is capacity for telecoms services from third parties to also make use of them.

The potential benefits are considerable. The national rail network reaches a significant amount of Britain. That means this project represents an innovative way to meet demand for improved fibre connectivity across the country. Not only this, but deploying fibre along the railway can save money compared with other deployment methods.

Potential benefits include

  • Train performance: Enhancing telecoms infrastructure will enable trains, signalling and level crossings – to be more connected than before, ultimately reducing delays and disruption. For example, new fibre optic sensors can detect landslips near the railway and better monitor the lineside for fallen trees
  • Safety: The deal would allow Network Rail to keep an eye on different parts of the railway more effectively. Faults could be identified and located in real-time; this means fewer teams having to undertake manual inspections for faults, and would allow us to be more precise in finding the faults too.
  • Train connectivity: Laying the fibre would act as an important foundation for better connectivity that could then be delivered through upgrades to lineside telecoms masts and on-board train equipment. This would improve the travel experience for train passengers, with benefits for those wanting to stream videos or browse online using their mobile phones.
  • Rural connectivity: Services ran by the investor can also help to support the Government’s commitment to roll out gigabit-capable connections across the UK, with £5bn allocated to supporting deployment to hard-to-reach areas.

The new fibre could help deliver upgrades to lineside telecoms masts – leading to improved connectivity for passengers.

“Our telecoms infrastructure requires an upgrade if we are to meet the growing connectivity needs of passengers and the railway itself – particularly to make sure our fibre capacity can handle more data, at greater speed, more reliably.

“This proposal makes good business sense for all parties. We get a cutting-edge, future-proof telecoms infrastructure; the investor gets a great business opportunity; train passengers in Britain get an improved service for years to come; and the taxpayer saves a significant amount of money.”

Andrew Haines, Chief Executive, Network Rail

Interested parties are advised to contact Lazard – Network Rail’s advisers on the deal – at lazard_reach@lazard.com.

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