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Broadband connectivity for Britain's railways

Mott MacDonald worked closely with the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) – as representatives of the entire British rail industry - to make the business case for future rail mobile communications and devise an effective strategy.

We successfully brought together key stakeholders from across the rail industry as well as mobile network operators.

As part of its 30-year technical strategy consultation, the Technical Strategy Leadership Group (TSLG) — a rail industry-wide body of experts — concluded that there was a clear need for “a single, integrated strategy for rail mobile communications”.​​

The challenge: making broadband cost-effective

This consultation revealed two key insights:

  • Mobile/wireless communications is critical to the long term future of a competitive railway system

  • The approach at that time to mobile broadband communications was piecemeal and bespoke, driving up cost unnecessarily.

Mott MacDonald was tasked with developing a positive business case that quantified the benefits and costs associated with the provision of mobile broadband connectivity on trains — both operationally and in terms of passenger service.

In addition, we identified a number of possible commercial models and regulatory challenges associated with an integrated and industry-wide approach to mobile broadband adoption.

The solution: a three-pronged strategy

We proposed a 30-year strategy to enable the coordinated adoption of mobile broadband services in two waves:

  • The progressive implementation of Mobile Communications Gateways on rolling stock, both existing and future, to provide a robust mobile signal on trains;

  • The use of Network Rail assets to facilitate better coverage of public 3G and future 4G networks on or close to the rail environment

The delivery of this vision would require the exercise of a mixture of governmental, regulatory and commercial levers. The initial impetus for the adoption of the on-board gateway would have to come from industry and government in order to successfully realise the long-term and wider economic benefits.

The benefits: bringing together key stakeholders

We successfully engaged with a diverse range of stakeholders —from within the rail environment (including the Department of Transport, Network Rail, regulators, rail associations and train, freight and rolling stock operators) as well as mobile network operators.

This was achieved through a series of workshops and one-to-one interviews as well as monthly interaction with a cross-industry-team appointed to oversee the work as it progressed.

Client: Rail Safety and Standards Board (representing the wider industry)
Our role: Strategy options and business case
Related services: ICT analytics, technology strategy and design
Related sectors: Satellite, telecom, investment and regulation, critical communications

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