Victoria will speed up the development of a AU$31.2 million high-speed fibre optic network for academics by piggybacking on an existing network used for railway services.
The Victorian Education and Research Network (VERN), being developed jointly by nine Victorian universities and the CSIRO, will link researchers and students across the state.
The Victorian government's contribution is access to the 517 kilometre fibre optic network being used by its regional rail authority, VicTrack, to provide improved signalling in rural areas and enable high-speed trains to Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Traralgon.
That network was built by Leighton Contractors at an estimated cost of AU$21.5 million. The universities and CSIRO are providing AU$17.1 million for extra development, while the Commonwealth Government is adding a further AU$14.1 million.
Due for completion by 2009, the 2000 kilometre VERN network will eventually link up to 200 sites, as well as connecting to the national AARNet network. As well as the rail link, about 300 kilometres of additional fibre has already been rolled out or leased.
Work this year will mostly focus on metropolitan access, but Victorian ICT minister Marsha Thomson said that providing high-speed access to regional sites was an important element of the plan.
"VERN is an important collaboration that will help researchers in a variety of fields ranging from cancer research to analysing drastic weather phenomena such as cyclones and typhoons," John Carruthers, CEO of VERNet, the company charged with rolling out the network, said in a statement announcing the project.
Carruthers told ZDNet Australia that the rail linkup as a good example of the kind of partnerships VERNet was examining as part of its commitment to develop the network. By 2008, the network should be operational past 120 sites, he said.