Inland Rail requires mobile telecommunications for train control and to maintain safe working systems. At certain locations along the 1,700km alignment, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will establish new telecommunications infrastructure or upgrade existing sites to ensure these requirements can be met.
Narrabri to North Star detailed feasibility study
On 19 April 2021, ARTC announced it will undertake a detailed feasibility study to explore opportunities to deliver improved mobile telecommunications along the Inland rail corridor from Narrabri to North Star (N2NS). This commitment followed the initial assessment by the Telecommunications Working Group.
The study will confirm the technical approach for site upgrades, the schedule and the cost to improve coverage in a 10-15km corridor either side of the N2NS Inland Rail alignment.
The study is expected to be completed in June 2021 to enable infrastructure works to commence later in the year.
Planning for Inland Rail telecommunication upgrades is generally undertaken during the detailed design phase. The location for site enhancements is largely driven by operational requirements, and is subject to commercial negotiations with telecommunication providers and local and state planning processes.
Recognising telecommunications are an economic and social enabler, the Australian Government is exploring options to enhance regional telecommunications services for communities along the alignment while delivering the system requirements and coverage for Inland Rail trains.
In July 2020 the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications joined with ARTC Inland Rail and the telecommunications partner, Telstra to form a working group to investigate opportunities to improve regional telecommunications services to communities along the Inland Rail alignment.
The Telecommunications Working Group (the working group) was tasked to identify communities along the rail corridor that lack sufficient telecommunications coverage with a view to further investigating whether improvements can be made in conjunction with Inland Rail construction work.
The initial focus of the working group is to investigate potential telecommunication improvements for the Narrabri to North Star section, which commenced construction on 27 November 2020.
ARTC Inland Rail will work with its telecommunications provider – Telstra – to identify opportunities to strengthen existing infrastructure as part of an initial feasibility study for N2NS which has progressed to a detailed feasibility study.
Further investigations are now underway along additional Inland Rail sections, where appropriate, to identify communities that may require upgraded mobile telecommunications.
The working groups investigations and advice will have regard to the Government’s existing investment in improving regional mobile coverage and connectivity through the Mobile Black Spot Program. It will also take a targeted approach to ensure any identified opportunities for improved connectivity are coordinated with ongoing construction work and proposed upgrades to ARTC’s existing National Train Communications System (NTCS) – a system that ensures continuous communications coverage for train operations along the alignment.
Offsetting temporary increases in demand
Inland Rail's construction supports thousands of local jobs and brings skilled workers to towns along the alignment, temporarily increasing their population and increasing demand on local services such as telecommunications.
To offset this increased demand, ARTC Inland Rail may work with its contractors to boost telecommunication capacity at existing sites during construction. The solutions to boost regional telecommunication capacity may include:
- temporary mobile boosters established in proximity of workers camps and construction sites
- enhancements to existing mobile towers
- installation of additional antennas.
Where it is possible to do so, enhancements that are implemented to meet Inland Rail requirements during construction will leave a beneficial legacy for regional communities through enhanced mobile capacity and coverage beyond the construction period.