Openreach investment brings Victorian icon into the 21st century

Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway goes digital thanks to Openreach investment in the South West

Openreach engineers have connected the historic Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway to Full Fibre broadband - future-proofing North Devon’s much-loved tourism icon for generations to come.

The Victorian railway is the UK's only fully water-powered railway and one of just three examples left in the world. It’s spectacular views across Lynmouth Bay and the Bristol Channel - from a Grade II café building perched high on the cliff top - make it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Devon and it welcomes 400,000 visitors every year.

The railway has connected the idyllic twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth physically since 1890 and today, with the installation of 21st century digital infrastructure, it will be able to connect digitally with the whole world. It is hoped that the new ultrafast, ultra-reliable connectivity will enable the railway to continue its important role in bringing tourism to the area as well as transporting residents up and down the cliff as they go about their daily business.

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.

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 today. 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: “We’re so pleased that we’ve been able to help secure the future of this wonderful tourist attraction. We know how hard the tourism and leisure industry has been hit by the pandemic, particularly in coastal areas, and better connectivity will make a real difference for how the Railway can operate.

“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)[1] 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.”

Ashley Clarke, General Manager of the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway said, “We are thrilled that our Railway has benefitted from Openreach’s Full Fibre build. We are a major year-round employer in the area and better connectivity will mean being able to run our business more efficiently, by being able to use technology like cashless payments. We can’t wait to experience ultrafast broadband speeds; this is an exciting moment in our proud engineering history”.

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 – delivering significant economic, social and environmental benefits for rural and urban communities, assuming the right regulatory and political fibre enablers are in place. Openreach engineers are already bringing Full Fibre to 40,000 premises every week across the UK and more than 3.5 million premises can now order a gigabit capable Full Fibre broadband service from a range of competing service providers using Openreach’s new network.

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. Openreach already employs more than 34,500 people, including more than 25,000 engineers who build, maintain and connect customers to its nationwide broadband network. Of these, more than 3,400 live and/or work in the South West.

There are clear economic benefits to building Full Fibre in coastal rural areas. In a report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) – Full Fibre broadband: A platform for growth” - commissioned by Openreach last year, revealed that connecting everyone in the South West to ‘Full Fibre’ broadband by 2025 would create a £4.3 billion boost to the region’s economy.

The report also revealed that more than 42,000 people across the South West could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity. This could include roles in small businesses and entrepreneurs – as well as allowing thousands more people to work remotely.

To view the full list of towns, villages and cities included in Openreach’s commercial programme, please visit https://www.openreach.com/fibre-broadband/.

People interested in seeing whether they can upgrade their broadband can see what’s available in their area by entering their postcode into our online fibre checker.

[1] Rural Gigabit Vouchers contribute towards the cost of building the Full Fibre infrastructure and cannot be used for any other purpose. The vouchers are free, with a commitment from that the resident or business will order a Full Fibre service from a provider of their choice, when service is live. Eligible residents qualify for up to £1,500 for rural homes and up to £3,500 for small and medium-sized businesses in rural areas.

About Openreach

Openreach Limited is the UK’s digital network business.  

We’re more than 35,000 people, working in every community to connect homes, schools, shops, banks, hospitals, libraries, mobile phone masts, broadcasters, governments and businesses – large and small – to the world. 

Our mission is to build the best possible network, with the highest quality service, making sure that everyone in the UK can be connected. 

We work on behalf of more than 665 communications providers like BT, SKY, TalkTalk, Vodafone, and Zen, and our broadband network is the biggest in the UK, passing more than 31.8m premises. 

Over the last decade we’ve invested more than £15 billion into our network and, at more than 190 million kilometres – it’s now long enough to wrap around the world 4,798 times. 

Today we’re building an even faster, more reliable and future-proof broadband network which will be the UK’s digital platform for decades to come. We’re making progress towards our full fibre optic network target to reach 25 million premises by December 2026. Research shows a nationwide Full Fibre network could potentially provide a £59bn boost to UK productivity.

To help build the new fibre network and deliver better service across the country – we’ve created and filled more than 9,000 apprenticeship roles in the last two years and we’re recruiting another 1,000 trainee roles in Openreach in 2021. We’re also building greener – we operate the UK’s second largest commercial fleet and want to help lead the transition to electric vehicles, with a target to transition our fleet to being electric in 2030. 

Openreach is a highly regulated, wholly owned, and independently governed unit of the BT Group. More than 90 per cent of our revenues come from services that are regulated by Ofcom and any company can access our products under equivalent prices, terms and conditions. 

For the year ended 31 March 2021, we reported revenue of £5,244m.

For more information, visit www.openreach.co.uk