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
The contract will save the taxpayer up to £1bn in costs and support the government’s objectives to improve connectivity across Britain, including in rural area.
This 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.
The contract includes 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.
As Network Rail will not require the full capacity of new cutting-edge fibre optics, there will be sufficient capacity for a third-party to run its own telecoms services – making use of the significant geographical reach of the national rail network to meet demand for improved fibre connectivity and taking advantage of the lower cost of fibre deployment along the railway when compared with other deployment methods.
If successful, the deal would offer:
- Train performance
- Train connectivity
- Rural connectivity
Meeting growing connectivity needs
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “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.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Upgrading the fibre optic cable network beside our railways has the potential to create a more digitally-connected railway, and could lay the foundations towards eradicating the blackspots and phone signal outages which infuriate passengers.
“Unlocking the skills and expertise of the private sector will benefit passengers and help create a modern railway that connects the country.”
Network Rail will review all expressions of interest and aims to finalise the transaction with a preferred bidder by the end of 2021.