As the deadline draws closer for 1800MHz spectrum renewal, RailCorp has commenced construction of the first of 250 new towers required for the $225 million digital train radio system (DTRS) network that it's building in response to the Waterfall train disaster in 2003.
The DTRS, which will use GSM-R technology, is being constructed by UGL and Huawei on behalf of RailCorp across 250 sites on the corporation's 1455km network spanning New South Wales, as well as at 60 sites in rail tunnels.
To replace the existing analog system, RailCorp will require new 25-metre towers near each of the stations, consisting of antennas, power and equipment cabinets connected via fibre-optic cable. Construction of the new towers will be done six days a week, over a period of six weeks.
Construction has commenced at Waterfall, Sutherland, Loftus, Heathcote, Goomera Bridge and Engadine, and RailCorp has opened 21 days of community feedback at a further 12 sites. According to a letter sighted by ZDNet Australia, RailCorp is contacting all residents living nearby to inform them of the planned construction.
Huawei chief technology officer Peter Rossi has described the GSM-R system as being ideal for Australia's rail conditions, because it is able to work in high traffic areas, as well as over long distances and through tunnels.
For the new network, RailCorp plans to use spectrum that it currently holds in the 1800MHz spectrum band. This spectrum band is due for renewal this year, with the government seeking comment from the spectrum holders on the proposed pricing for the 1800MHz spectrum last month.
RailCorp has previously called for 1800MHz spectrum to be guaranteed to rail companies across Australia, given the financial outlay required to install new networks that utilise this spectrum.
"In view of the significant capital outlay required to deploy this radio communications system for rail communications, it is essential that long-term access is available to the [1800MHz] bands that are licensed to RailCorp and other rail operators around Australia," RailCorp said in a 2010 submission.
RailCorp argues that providing contiguous spectrum and similar GSM-R technologies across Australia will ensure better communication across the rail networks, and will reduce the risk of rail disasters similar to the Waterfall incident that led to the deaths of seven people.
The telcos are, however, reportedly pushing for the regulator to free up the spectrum used by the rail companies for telcos to deploy long-term evolution (LTE) networks such as Telstra's 4G network and Optus' network planned for launch in April.
RailCorp and the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.