Core Valley Lines: Rail & Non-rail Telecom services

09 February 2023
Image of a train in front of a building
The installation of a new fibre-optic cable network and Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) Internet Protocol (IP) transmission system to support rail operations has the potential to benefit rail and non-rail customers alike

As part of its contract with Transport for Wales (TfW) to transform the Wales & Borders rail network, Amey is renewing the ageing infrastructure of the Core Valley Lines (CVL). Key elements of the programme include the electrification of the network, construction of a depot to house a new fleet of light rail vehicles, and a new CVL Integrated Control Centre (CVLICC) to actively manage Signalling, Telecom and Electrical systems.

Since the existing telecoms infrastructure was inadequate to support the new requirements, TfW commissioned Amey Consulting to design a new IP transmission network to support rail operations, including signalling, telephony and electrification equipment. This would run on new fibre optic cables, to be installed along the route of the railway.

The CVL runs along three remote valleys, where businesses, public sector facilities and households struggle with slow, unreliable or overpriced broadband services, often delivered via copper cables. Amey Consulting suggested that the introduction of the fibre optic network provided an opportunity to add social and economic values not just to the CVL, but to the valley communities and businesses. By introducing high-capacity fibre cables that exceed the operational requirements of the CVL, the extra capacity is be used to offer fast, resilient broadband to non-rail customers adjacent to the railway.

Historically, Network Rail has installed 24-core fibre cable along the UK’s railways to provide telecoms connectivity for operational services. For the CVL, Amey proposed a larger cable in a ribbon format – 36 ribbons of 12 fibres, making 432 individual fibres in total. The spare fibres could be used to offer superfast (up to 10Gbit) broadband to homes, businesses and organisations along the railway.

Even though higher upfront costs would be involved, TfW recognised the wider social and economic benefits and accepted the proposal. Potential non-rail customers include libraries and council offices, the business park at Treforest and numerous private households. A separate consultancy will market and manage the non-rail broadband service on TfW’s behalf. The fees will help to offset the capital cost of the new telecoms network and provide TfW with an ongoing source of income.

Amey Consulting identified another use for the fibre network. Currently, 55 CVL stations use BT for their telecoms services, including CCTV, customer information screens, customer help points, ticket vending machines and public address systems. TfW pays around £100,000 per year to BT for these services.

Amey suggested that significant savings could be made in the long term by making use of the new TfW-owned fibre cables running past the stations. Amey presented a strong business case with costed options, resulting in TfW’s choice of a £440,000 design and install programme to connect the stations to the fibre network. Once the BT contract ends, the investment will pay for itself within five years.

To date, Amey Consulting has delivered the outline design for the IP transmission network; Siemens is providing the detailed design and build, while Balfour Beatty is testing and commissioning the fibre. The network is expected to be ready for the activation of the new signalling system in January 2023, at which point spare fibre will be made available to non-rail customers. The station connectivity project will run in parallel and is expected to take two years to complete. Amey Consulting is providing the design, while another contractor will handle installation and testing. 

The telecoms project is just one example of the way the CVL renewal programme has provided Amey with the opportunity to innovate and rethink traditional approaches to rail design. The concept of a high-capacity, converged telecoms data network capable of supporting non-rail broadband provision and station services in addition to rail operations is unique in the UK.

The planned business model will exploit the new asset in a way that benefits all parties, from infrastructure owners and operators to local businesses and communities, and points the way forward for future rail telecoms projects around the country.