Network Rail seeks £1bn private sector investment for new telecoms

Network Rail has unveiled plans to attract up to £1 billion in investment from the private sector to upgrade its railway telecoms.

The investment would be used to install fibre optic circuits to modernise as much as 16,000km of data cables that run along rail routes. The new circuits would be so much more efficient that the rail industry would have more capacity than it could use, meaning third parties could use the surplus for their own telecom services.

Installing fibre optic cables would also cut maintenance costs on the railways by making it easier to monitor the condition of bridges, cuttings and other structures without requiring Network Rail to pay for manual inspections. And it would be the first step in providing an improved WiFi service to passengers on trains, although that would also require upgrades in other equipment, like the masts along the routes and the WiFi equipment on the trains themselves.

Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines said the telecoms upgrade was necessary to meet the increasing connectivity needs both of rail passengers and of the railway itself, and especially to make sure Network Rail’s fibre capacity could handle more data faster and more reliably.

He added that the proposal made “good business sense for all parties”, with Network Rail getting future-proof cutting-edge telecoms, investors getting a great opportunity, train passengers getting better services for years to come, and the taxpayer getting a significant saving on costs.