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Network Rail\'s GSM-R masts

Network Rail's GSM-R masts
Alan Duncan MP, the Shadow Trade and Industry Spokesman appeared yesterday, 6th June 2007 on the Daily Politics Show. He discussed Jasper Carrott's excellent film about Mobile Telephone Masts and Network Rail.
Much of what Alan Duncan said was factually incorrect. It was an incredibly poor performance by a front-bench spokesman from the Conservative Party.
(Watch here

You can help us, and everyone else threatened by these masts (including all those who simply enjoy unspoilt countryside), just by telling other people about Network Rail's plans (and maybe telling about them about this website too).

You can help even more by questioning the need for the whole GSM-R network with politicians and the media.

The more fuss we all make about this issue now, the less likely it is that one of these oversize masts will be coming to a railway near you in the next few years!

Ask your local planning department whether Network Rail is proposing to erect any masts in your neighbourhood. Network Rail's Community Relations Manager has said that, “several masts are planned in each Local Planning Authority area”, so the chances are that - sooner or later - one will be planned close to you.

If you find that one (or more) masts are scheduled for your neighbourhood, write to your local councillor to object - there's a sample letter here.

Ask your MP to take the subject up with Network Rail and the relevant Government departments. You can find out who your MP is, and how to contact him or her, from this web page. Here is a sample letter.

Request one (or more) of your MEPs to ask Network Rail for a list of planned mast locations in your constituency (as was supplied to Dr Caroline Jackson, MEP for the south-west, by John Armitt, Network Rail's Chief Executive). You can find out the names and contact details of all the Members of the European Parliament representing your region from this web page. There's a sample letter here.

If you are a rail traveller, write to your local Rail Passenger Association (you can get the address from this web page) or to the Rail Passengers Council at this address (click here for a sample letter):

Rail Passengers Council
Whittles House
14 Pentonville Road
London, N1 9HF

Write a letter to your local newspaper and/or radio station.

If you have a website, please link to this page.

If you know, or find out, any information that might be useful to our campaign (including relevant websites), please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If it looks helpful, we'll put it up on this website.


A company called Ultramast, which used to be a 50:50 joint venture between Network Rail and Marconi until it was sold in late 2002 to engineering group Jarvis, claimed on its website that “With access to the telecommunications expertise of Marconi and the unique property portfolios of Railtrack and British Waterways”, it aims to “offer phone operating companies the ability to rapidly enhance their network coverage by implementing a quick mast roll-out plan across the country in locations that have not been previously accessible to them.”

They claimed that they were not reliant on ‘permitted development rights’ under Part 17(A) of the GPDO, which implies that they are hoping to use the Part 24 or Part 25 permitted development rights of commercial operators to erect many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of 15-metre GPRS or G3 masts alongside Network Rail's 30-metre GSM-R masts.

The company has now adopted a very low profile - its website's home page is no longer accessible, though you can reach some pages by searching for Ultramast on Google.

Jarvis has now sold the company.

AMEC: The Mast Project

We also came across a page on the website of AMEC, a project management and services company, describing a contract they have with Network Rail called The Mast Project, which is summarised as follows:

Cellular phone companies are rapidly expanding the number of base station sites needed to support their network infrastructure. Due to a shortage of available green field sites that are likely to be acceptable to local planning authorities, they have been approaching Railtrack with a view to erecting masts on Railtrack land. This mainly involves replacing the existing Railtrack Cab Secure Radio mast with a Cellular mast.

It seems that the CSR antenna are then hung on the new masts alongside the cellular phone antennae. So presumably the GSM-R masts will be in addition to these new masts, rather than replacing Network Rail's existing masts.

Interesting and useful articles

An excellent article from the Daily Telegraph on Network Rail's plans and the protests they're generating, with a good scale diagram of a GSM-R mast next to a house.

A BBC article, Railway phone masts, focusing on one mast planned for Bourne End in Buckinghamshire. Includes comments from visitors (unanimously anti-Network Rail).

A good report on the legal aspects of the planning laws and how Network Rail's interpretation of them may be challenged.

The Tarka Action Group fought magnificently against Network Rail's attempt to erect a number of masts along the famous Tarka Line in Devon. Network Rail appeared to have given up, and chosen instead use an alternative technology they always denied was feasible. In addition to their coverage in the Daily Telegraph (see above), an article about the campaign appeared on the BBC website on 22 May 2003. Click here for a summary of how the Tarka Action Group fought their campaign. In June 2004, however, Network Rail revived their original plan, but with somewhat shorter masts - click here for a report.

Churchdown in Gloucestershire is currently under threat - their website contains useful information (some of which we've borrowed for this section).

New Mill in Wiltshire is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which hasn't deterred Network Rail. Their website is here. Several residents, and a representative of Mast Sanity, were interviewed for the BBC Radio 4 You and Yours programme broadcast on 13 May 2004. You can listen to a recording of the programme from this link. You will need a (free) program called RealOne Player.

Other rail mast sightings on the Web

The list below provides links to documents or websites relating to other proposed mast locations throughout the UK (excluding the ones linked to above). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you come across any others (along with the Web address, if possible).

Look for others - click here for a Google search for "Network Rail" mast (radio OR microwave) in UK pages updated in the past 3 months - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you find any new pages.


It seems very unlikely that 33-metre (108-foot) masts every 4 to 6 miles are necessary. GSM masts, which share much the same technology, are typically less than half that height, but have vastly greater ranges:

The base stations for [GSM] macrocells have power outputs of tens of watts and communicate with phones up to about 35 kilometres (22 miles) distant.

Planning Policy Guidance 8: Telecommunications, paragraph 21, effective from 22 August 2001 (976kb PDF).

We can expect trains to use more powerful transmitters and more sensitive receivers than mobile phones, further increasing the range.

So, in theory, GSM-R masts could be half the height and still be placed 70 kilometres (43 miles) apart - which would mean that only a few hundred would be required to cover the 16,000 kilometres of track in the UK.

Smaller GSM-R masts are available - one manufacturer (MTA) builds 5, 10, and 15 metre masts. The only reason for using higher masts is that (if there are obstacles in the line of sight, eg bridges or buildings) you need fewer of them - but Network Rail wants it both ways.

When asked why, Network Rail simply beg the question, as in this exchange on the Radio Four's You and Yours programme broadcast on 13 May 2004 (see below):

Mark Holdstock, BBC: “So why do these masts have to be so tall, and why do there have to be so many of them?”

Iain Coucher, NR Deputy Chief Executive: “If we had smaller masts we'd obviously have to have a lot more.”

Mr Coucher is paid £400,000 a year, so can't be stupid - presumably he chose to misunderstand the question because he didn't want to give a straight answer.

In fact, the straight answer is that the proposed GSM-R network requires closer/taller masts because of the data communications demands of the traffic control component of ERTMS Level 2 - which, as we have seen, is not a requirement of the EU Directive on interoperability, and is not being adopted by any EU other country. See in-cab radio systems.

Network Rail Mast