BRITISH infrastructure manager Network Rail (NR) has announced that it has entered exclusive discussions with an unnamed private-sector consortium with a view to forming a long-term partnership to upgrade its telecoms infrastructure.

NR says that the consortium is formed of two businesses that are “both market leaders in the development of mobile tower and fibre assets,” which would provide “significant” third-party funding for the upgrade in return for rights to sell spare capacity on the network.

Lazard & Co is acting as the exclusive financial advisor to NR on the transaction, where the parties expect to reach an agreement by mid-2023.

NR’s 16,000km of lineside fibre optic cable underpins its voice, data and radio telecoms networks that support a wide range of services including signalling, station information and security systems, train and lineside voice and data communications, and corporate networks for depots and offices.

NR says the existing cable is near the end of useful life, or is at full capacity, and requires upgrading “imminently.”

The 2G-based GSM-R network will also need to be upgraded to the 5G-based FRMCS radio system solution within the next decade, requiring new mast infrastructure.

The upgraded telecoms network is expected to reduce delays and disruption, while improving safety by allowing NR to monitor asset condition in real time. This would reduce the need for manual inspection.

New fibre optic cable and mast infrastructure should enable passengers to enjoy uninterrupted mobile phone coverage and internet access throughout their entire journey.

These connectivity improvements will also benefit those living in rural areas next to the railway, says NR, supporting government objectives to roll out gigabit-capable connections across Britain and improve broadband services in remote locations.

“The proposal provides a comprehensive package that will deliver real benefits for passengers and the railway, and also significant savings for the UK taxpayer,” says NR corporate finance director, Ms Harriet Hepburn.