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Getting a Bigger “Byte” into Devon!

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Ashley Clarke, General Manager of the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway joins Openreach engineers as they install full fibre broadband infrastructure to the Victorian landmark

One of the South West's oldest landmarks has become of the fastest places in the UK for broadband speeds. The historic Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway has been connected to Full Fibre broadband by Openreach. The Victorian railway is the UK's only fully water-powered railway and one of just three examples left in the world. It welcomes 400,000 visitors every year. Now, the installation of 21st century digital infrastructure means it can connect digitally with the whole world, providing ultrafast, ultra-reliable connectivity.

The upgrade forms part of Openreach’s investment to build Full Fibre broadband technology to thousands of homes and businesses in 33 “harder-to-reach” cities, towns and villages across the South West - part of a wider commitment to reach 3.2 million premises in the UK’s hardest to serve ‘final third’. When Openreach engineers surveyed Lynton and Lynmouth to plan new network, they realised that, with a bit of collaboration and some engineering know-how, the Cliff Railway could be an added bonus in their connection plans. It means the railway can run more efficiently and can now start to use the latest technology like cashless payments.

Adrian Chamberlain, Clerk of Works for Openreach’s Chief Engineer’s team said: Because of their geography, Lynton and Lynmouth have without doubt been the most challenging locations I’ve surveyed in thirty years of being an engineer. Some days I’ve walked 33,000 steps, planning how we’ll bring Full Fibre broadband to the homes and businesses here.

“But it’s places like this that need our infrastructure more than ever. Ashley Clarke, General Manager of the Railway and I discussed how it might be possible to connect the Tourist Information Centre and Railway building at the bottom of the cliff, but the café building at the top was proving problematic. He suggested running the cable between the railway tracks from top to bottom and that’s what we’re doing. It means that, by the time the 2021 tourist season starts, the railway, it’s office and café buildings and the TIC will all be connected to gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure. With a build of this size and complexity, collaboration with local people is vital, and we’ve loved planning this project with Ashley and the team at the Railway.”

Connie Dixon, Openreach’s Partnership Director for the South West, said that better connectivity will make a real difference for how the Railway can operate. She added: “But it’s not just the Railway that will benefit from Full Fibre. We’re building the infrastructure that will allow thousands of homes and businesses in Lynton and Lynmouth to upgrade to Full Fibre as a result of our investment. Our ultra-reliable, ultrafast Full Fibre network will boost productivity, cut commuting and carbon emissions and connect our families, public services and businesses for decades to come. Lynton and Lynmouth were also the locations for a UK-first Rural Gigabit Voucher (RGV) pledging scheme. We are investing in the Full Fibre spine that comes all the way from Barnstaple from Lynton and Lynmouth. But our commercial investment can only go so far – so by pooling Government-funded RGVs, eligible businesses and residents can help us build further in the area. The communities of Lynton and Lynmouth have met their pledge target, which is wonderful news. Now the need to validate their pledges with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport so we can build the network to them. Once this is done, they can take a service with one of the hundreds of retail broadband providers which use our open network.”

The build is part of a massive £12 billion investment, in which Openreach aims to build full fibre infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the mid-to-late 2020s. In December, Openreach announced it was creating 2,500 new roles and an estimated 2,800 roles with partners to support the UK-wide Full Fibre build, including 200 new roles in the South West with 56 in Devon.

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