Private sector companies have been invited to invest in Network Rails trackside fibre optic cable network.
A deal which could save the company more than £1bn as it aims to increase reliability, performance and safety for its frontline workers and passengers as government continues its roadmap out of lockdown and decreases rail restrictions.
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.
The investment would cover 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. These consequently would be upgraded if the right investment was to come in and alleviate Network Rail from relying on subsidies from government or passengers.
Creating the vacancy 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 across Britain. Taking advantage of the lower cost of fiber deployment along the railway when compared with other deployment methods.
Network Rail believes this initiative will create a safer, more modern and digitally-connected rail network with specialized providers in management.
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.
With the regulation and accountability of the future potential third parties not being presently discussed in any statement and the overall transparency of how they will conduct and service the huge daily data operations. With such a vital area of rail open to private investors and outsourcing there could be forthcoming opposition to the move.