UK rail network drops plan to sell telecoms infrastructure
19 September 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray
Britain’s railway infrastructure company, Network Rail, has decided not to sell off its telecommunications network, according to reports.
The Financial Times says that the company – which owns track and stations but does not run trains – “has no immediate plans” to sell its fibre network, which carries telecommunications traffic as well as signalling and control information along its rail network.
The state-owned company had been in talks with a number of operators in the UK about buying the telecoms infrastructure, including BT and Liberty Global’s Virgin Media, according to the report.
It would not have been the first time that the British railway network had sold off its telecoms systems. In 1995, when the government decided to privatise the railways, what was then British Rail Telecoms was sold to electronics group Racal. Global Crossing – now part of Level 3 – later bought the unit for £1 billion.
The big attraction for Racal – and then Global Crossing – was that the fibre network reached into every city and almost every town in Britain, with city-centre access points at rail stations.
Network Rail then had to re-establish its own in-house telecommunications operations as part of its modernisation programme. The company has debts of £42 billion and was looking to sell the telecoms business in order to reduce the figure.