Many Rivers to Cross

I am not sure there can be anybody in the world now who doesn’t know about B4RN, the community-led initiative which is installing 1000Mbps fibre internet connections in North Lancashire, England, particularly after the world-wide publicity generated by its launch day recently (see some of it here).


The farmers and villagers who make up the volunteer membership of B4RN have toiled through wind, rain and snow (and there has been lots of all three over the past 12 months), to lay the fibre cables which have brought hyperfast connectivity to 2 villages so far. It’s been back-breaking, and sometimes soul-destroying, work, as the trenches often fill with water as soon as they are dug. Nevertheless, they have persevered, making much slower progress, than planned, but people are starting to benefit from their remote communities being connected to the 21st Century.

River Lune bridge at Arkholme

Railway bridge over the river Lune at Arkholme
© Copyright Ian Lane and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Now they have hit a major snag. The B4RN area is centred on the Lune Valley. That means there is a river at its heart, and they now need to cross it. On the positive side, there is a clear route across the river, which is right in the path the fibre needs to take to reach the communities on the other side, and that is a railway viaduct (pictured above). The problem is that, Network Rail, which owns the viaduct wants a lot of money and a huge amount of regulation and red tape, for B4RN to run its little cable across to the other side.

Photo by Rory Cellan-Jones

Photo by Rory Cellan-Jones

Now, I think we can all understand that commercial considerations and health and safety regulations have to apply in these kinds of situations, but B4RN is a not-for-profit, community-owned organisation, which is pioneering in a very difficult endeavour. Network Rail describes itself as a ‘not for shareholder dividend’ company, so you would think it might recognise a similar kind of organisation trying to do good for its members. Surely it also ought to be possible for B4RN to come to some mutually beneficial arrangement with Network Rail, in which the latter gets access to B4RN’s hyperfast connectivity for its own purposes and for signalling. We all know about the high cost of cable theft on the railways, which is caused by people stealing copper cables for their scrap value; fibre has no value in this respect.

So, come on Network Rail, surely you can come to an arrangement here. And, if you are reading this and have any influence over Network Rail at all, please do something to help.

Thank you


9 thoughts on “Many Rivers to Cross

  1. Thanks John! that’s a great post and maybe someone in network rail will take a leap of faith and help us. A directional drill under the river is the only other way across, and it seems so daft with a great bridge there and very few trains using it these days. There is no connectivity on that line as you probably know, we could maybe do some wifi for them or something? or even put some 3g transmitters along the route? Who knows what the future holds, and with a partner like them we could help each other become digitally enhanced, let the southerners have their fast trains with intermittent connectivity, our little northern line could have hyperfast connectivity and knock the spots off HS2. We still have steam trains on this route as the nearest station is probably Carnforth. Steam and fibre. what a combo! Chattanooga got nothing like this…

  2. Interesting reading subject – National Audit Office treats as state company, Office for National Statistics doesn’t. Upshot appears to be that it is ‘state’ except where recognition as such would be to the state’s detriment 😉 Knowing that Tim Farron has sung B4RN’s praises would be interesting to see if he could facilitate in any way as I doubt the ‘little guy’s would make any headway against ‘corporate due process’. But not my place to escalate above a posit 😉

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Tim Farron has been supportive and has taken up the cause. He’s not been able to make headway as yet

  3. Is this what generated the item and discussion on ISPreview? Pity they have called it a dispute.
    i would suggest the size of the cable does not matter, but it’s the H&S etc. around a working rail line that makes it difficult, with the number of trains per day not relevant.
    Have Network Rail quoted for installation of duct etc.?

  4. John, ‘disappointed’ – figured the horizontal drilling info / links added ‘value’ to the convo; didn’t figure for a ‘strike through’ edit. no matter, hope the ‘farmers’ figure a ‘work around’, just like they do on their respective farms every day, just like my uncle did on his farm in Vermont.

  5. We never did get to run our duct over the bridge. Nework rail hummed and hawed for two years then said no. We got there another way, more expensive, but connected several more villages on the way, so every cloud has a silver lining.

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