Network Rail is seeking private sector investment to upgrade its telecommunications network in return for access to spare capacity. It says a deal could save it up to £1 billion.
Around 10,000 miles of lineside data cables are due to be upgraded, with railway data carried including signalling, trackside sensors, CCTV and internet for trains, depots and offices. However, NR says it won’t need the full capacity of the fibre optic network, with enough spare for a third-party to run its own telecommunication services.
NR points out that the rail network has a wide geographical reach and that installation of fibre optic cable is much easier than on the road network.
Claimed benefits for passengers are improved train performance with infrastructure elements better connected. Fibre optic sensors could also detect the likes of landslips and fallen trees. NR adds that the new network could allow it to monitor infrastructure remotely with real-time information. This, it argues, will cut the number of manual inspections and allow it to target maintenance where it is needed.
Better onboard internet connectivity is also a potential benefit – although the fibre optic cable does not automatically provide it. However, upgrades to lineside telecommunications masts and onboard equipment could provide greater bandwidth.
The final benefit NR cites is that it will help improve rural connectivity by providing better connections to hard-to-reach areas, with gigabit-capable connections possible.
Lazard is advising NR on the deal. No deadline has been set for one to be reached.