Bam Nuttall aids repairs to Dawlish's storm-damaged rail with WLAN

Civil engineering contractor Bam Nuttall deploys rugged comms network in Dawlish to keep repairs to critical rail infrastructure on track

Following the destruction of an 80m stretch of sea wall and a major section of railway track at Dawlish in Devon, civil engineering firm Bam Nuttall and Network Rail have deployed a temporary wireless LAN to keep a major repair effort on track.

The winter storms of late 2013 and early 2014 brought large-scale flooding to many parts of the UK, and wreaked havoc in South West England, where Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s 19th century coastal railway fell victim to the sea.

The Riviera Line is heavily trafficked by First Great Western and CrossCountry train services and forms the main rail connection to Plymouth and Cornwall beyond. With the effect on the regional economy being keenly felt, it was therefore critical to complete repairs as quickly as possible.

The contractor turned to specialist wireless connectivity firm Trellisworks to design an emergency communications network, which played a significant part in getting the line open again in just two months. The two firms had worked together on a number of projects in the past.

“The challenges of providing robust and reliable connectivity in an environment like Dawlish cannot be underestimated. We were able to draw on our many years’ of experience to create, deploy and manage a communication network which met everyone’s needs,” said Trellisworks co-founder Jim Kernaghan.

From the announcement of the contract win, Bam Nuttall's IT team, under ICT head Rob Youster, had barely three days to design and deploy a flexible and resilient network that was able to send and receive large quantities of data – such as architectural blueprints – between its own facilities and those of Network Rail, while remaining impervious to harsh weather conditions, and meeting the needs of site visitors

“It was vital that we worked as efficiently and quickly as possible to restore this connection to the south west,” said Youster.

“The communications network was vital to the smooth running of this project and ensured that the team on site were able to communicate and collaborate effectively with colleagues who were not based at Dawlish.”

Youster's team faced a number of challenges with the deployment, not least a lack of power on site at first that meant they were unable to install anything at all.

"The other concern I had was this was a very high profile project with David Cameron visiting the site," Youster told Computer Weekly. "So we had to be aware of the press turning up and wanting to use the network."

The contractors deployed a Pepwave MAX wireless router-based solution, which incorporates 3G and 4G SIMs from different mobile networks that operate in redundant pairs, providing a more resilient network. This was paired with bespoke antenna devices.

To manage the demands of the influx of visitors, the contractors also turned to a number of local hotels to use their fixed broadband connections, said Youster, who added that the local community was very accommodating in this regard.

Trellisworks also added a proprietary SIM-management service to ensure none of the routers incurred additional costs, preventing bill shock for Bam Nuttall at the end of service.

Read more on Wireless networking