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Railway Dispute Hampers 1Gbps Fibre Broadband Rollout in Lancashire UK

Monday, March 4th, 2013 (8:31 am) - Score 1,706

A debate over costs between B4RN (Broadband 4 Rural North), which wants to run its “hyperfast” 1000Mbps (Megabits) capable fibre optic broadband (FTTH) cable over a railway bridge (viaduct) that crosses the River Lune in North Lancashire (England), and the state-owned Network Rail is threatening to delay the project.

The approximately 3 mile long fibre run (though it’s just 150 metres over the railway segment), which would help to connect Arkholme with its next core link in neighbouring Wennington across the river, is a vital part of B4RN’s phase one route at the top of their initial network map. But Network Rail, which maintains and develops Britain’s national rail network, perhaps understandably “wants a lot of money and a huge amount of regulation and red tape” in exchange for use of the bridge.

B4RN, which is a community-owned and not-for-profit organisation, admits that “commercial considerations and health and safety regulations have to apply in these kinds of situations“. It has also attempted, so far without much success, to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement with Network Rail (e.g. giving them access to B4RN’s network for its own purposes). Efforts to resolve the “major snag” are continuing but B4RN does have an alternative.

Christine Conder of B4RN said (blog):

A directional drill under the river is the only other way across, and it seems so daft with a great bridge there and very few trains using it these days. There is no connectivity on that line … we could maybe do some wifi for them or something? or even put some 3g transmitters along the route? Who knows what the future holds.

With a partner like them we could help each other become digitally enhanced. We still have steam trains on this route as the nearest station is probably Carnforth. Steam and fibre. What a combo!”

It should be said that work on the network hasn’t completely ground to a halt because B4RN can still shift its resources and continue the development on other parts of their infrastructure in the rural Lune Valley region. Never the less it would in theory be both quicker and cheaper to simply pass the cable along the bridge that already exists.. if only.

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22 Responses
  1. Avatar Martyn Dews says:

    Hi Mark,

    Just a couple of clarifications if I may. The word “dispute” may be a little of an overstatement. We have had discussions with some members of NR who have been understanding but as of yet we have not been able to get the agreement that we would like. To date, all NR staff involved have been helpful but for obvious reasons, and ones that B4RN completely agrees with, there has to be stringent safety regulations. B4RN’s issue is not this but the degree of cost. However we continue to investigate options with NR. It has to be noted that the local MPs, Eric Ollerenshaw and Tim Farron have been extremely helpful, but even they have not been able to find a way through.

    Also the length required across the viaduct is around 150 metres and not the 3 miles stated in the report. So not that long really and given the fact that this is not a particularly busy line, (about 4 trains per day I understand), placing this duct across the viaduct should not be that hard.

    Just to be clear, B4RN are not looking for a free crossing, (although that would be lovely), just a competitive one in comparison with other methods. The hope is that as B4RN are a community benefit company there may be some way forward. As quoted in your article, it may also be mutually beneficial to NR to in terms of positive publicity and also access to a gigabit network.

    This does not stop the B4RN progress though. There are other ways across it was just that this was the most sensible for all concerned. Hopefully B4RN and NR can come to an agreement, but this is by no means a “dispute”, NR have been as helpful as possible to date. I think it’s just a case of reaching the right person within NR.

    Hope this clarifies a bit.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Thanks Martyn.

      The 3 mile reference is actually in context of the link distance between Arkholme and Wennington – as the crow flies – rather than the railway crossing itself, which is obviously only a few metres 🙂 .

      But I don’t think “dispute” is strictly too strong, it can also be used to reflect debate and controversy. Plus the original post called the situation a “major snag” and so I think the use of dispute is a fair reflection. Matter of opinion I guess.

    2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      IIRC there are very strict controls on conducting work trackside, with work only allowed to be undertaken by licenced operatives. Difficult to see this being waived as all other bodies would see it as a precedent, and especially difficult to see a waiver for a private company, community or otherwise. Also, given Network Rail is underwritten by the government, would any “special deal” for B4RN count as state aid, need approval?

      The comments about helping each other become “digitally enhanced” (whatever that means) show someone has got carried away with sound bites, not bothered to do their homework. There is already a large amount of fibre and copper running trackside across the country for signalling etc. I’d be confident that this is a significantly bigger network than B4RN, so not clear how Network Rail would benefit from such an exchange.

      IMHO the key here is that there are some standard costs applicable for undertaking this work. If Nework Rail does B4RN any sort of favour then all the other parties it deals with will quite rightly expect similar treatment.

  2. Avatar Craig Brass says:

    Should of JFDIed it Chris. I would of 😉 ex-LUNS staff are good at hanging off bridges to fit cable I hear 🙂

  3. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Shouldn’t this have been discussed and cleared before you started?

  4. Avatar FibreFred says:

    And even if access is agreed what about future access in case of a breakage, all of these should have been agreed upfront

  5. Avatar chris says:

    Q to NR: will you allow us access to our duct on your bridge to repair a breakage?
    A to B4RN: yes, we will notify you of times of access and you can mend your fibre if a train crash has broken it. We believe a fusion splice takes around 30 seconds, so even a big break would take only an hour to fix, and often there are many hours between trains crossing our little bridge. No problem my friend, we will get our lawyers to tick a few boxes on a wayleave form for you today.

    We are still at the ‘upfront’ stage Fred. exactly how long does it take to answer a question, and how many forms in triplicate are needed? Where is common sense…

    In a real big society people can and should work together to make life better and easier for everyone. This saves time, money and brain power. The people you talk to in NR are brilliant, but they don’t have the power to grant permissions, there are far too many procedures and as this sort of request is pretty unusual its really hard for them to deal with. I don’t blame them for trying to get lots of money and tying big corporations up in legal tomes because if a train broke their fibre they would get sued, but this isn’t a big corporation, this is a community who want to help their neighbours and provide something good, and without funding its essential that every element within the area helps each other.

    One other small correction to the article Mark, we have wayleaves from landowners each side of the bridge, and once across the Lune the next village is Melling, not Wennington.

    I agree with Martyn, we’ve never had a ‘dispute’ with NR. Its just a conversation that has gone nowhere yet. Its turning into a debate and causing controversy now though! 😉 We have asked to use the bridge to put our duct over the river, if they don’t want to or can’t help us there are other ways to get across. All it needs is a few men, or women of grit to make it as easy as it can be. We can do hard. We just prefer the sensible solutions, they are usually the easiest too. What does seem to take an inordinate amount of time isn’t the digging, its the paperwork.


    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      But a conversation that should have happened many moons ago, that was my point. You must have known the route ages ago and you’ve got wayleaves for everything else but not a crucial part of the core link.

    2. Avatar Robin Williams says:

      Why should it have happened many moons ago? As Chris stated – it’s still in the planning stage. The fact that the other wayleaves have come through first are a result of them being locally granted and not granted via a national entity which is always going to be a more cumbersome affair.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Robin, its called “planning”

      They must have known the route of the network a long time ago, they must have known they’d have to cross that bridge a long time ago, they must have known it was owned by Network Rail and crossing it would be tricky. So… you engage as early as possible knowing how long it takes for large company cogs to turn

    4. Avatar Robin Williams says:

      Not sure which part of “this is the planning stage” could be clearer, so I’ll leave it at that.

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Robin, how far into the network build are we? Almost a year? The planning stage should have started before the digging began unless you are telling me b4rn engaged NR 1.5-2yrs ago?

  6. Avatar Bob says:

    So i guess new schemes like this…
    are only for the benefit of BT. When it comes to red tape for others to deploy they are once again ignored.

    1. Avatar Gadget says:

      Isn’t this currently only a proposal and doesn’t this apply to cabinets in streets and not access along railway lines?

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      That’s to do with citing of street furniture, not sure how that is relevant

    3. Avatar Bob says:

      No, no and no.

      The “Fast Start” scheme is based on a pilot which occurred/is occurring in Norfolk. It is designed to speed up planning, highways consent, power issues and general deployment It does NOT just mean cabinets, but…
      powering superfast cabinets
      prioritising streetworks
      creating a deployment friendly planning regime
      facilitating overhead lines and access to existing buildings and new development

      Id say the last on that list particular covers putting overhead cables across a rail bridge/viaduct.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Ok well in that case its a bit too late for B4RN by the looks of it as this isn’t up and running yet otherwise they could use it

    5. Avatar Bob says:

      I can find no info on if the “Fast Start” scheme is or is NOT yet available in other areas. I would imagine as it happened 2 months ago at the very least other areas are being looked at so it is certainly worth B4RN looking in to. Hopefully they will not have to go to that extent though and the railway will just see sense. I doubt the job of placing cable alongside track or under the viaduct would take even a whole day. If the cable was placed in a duct under the bridge any future maintenance could even probably be done without interfering with trains crossing the bridge.

      Other than that “Fast Start” if the railway do not co-operate is certainly something for Martyn and Chris to look into.

    6. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I don’t think its a case of seeing sense its more around rules and reg’s

  7. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    A pole on each side of the river…..

    Job done.

  8. Avatar G1h says:

    Fibre Fred
    For all we know B4RN might be doing a bit of game playing.
    They know NR will be ‘difficult’.
    So the tactic is rather than deal with the issues at the begining, fix everything else and then when NR start being “awkward” at the bottleneck put out lots of publicity to this effect.
    NR are then forced on the back foot and are shamed into coming up with a solution far quicker than by going through the whole thing normally because now top level managment are involved
    It’s called “create a crisis management”

  9. Avatar SURREY HILLS says:

    Those that have actually looked at the bridge will see there is already a gas line suspended on the outside of the bridge on robust load bearing brackets. That could easily accommodate a fibreglass tube or similar with a minimum of effort thus removing H & S railway topics from the conversation. The Lune is quite shallow there so external access would be relatively easy.

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