AS workers continued their mammoth task of rebuilding Warrnambool’s crippled Telstra exchange links, it became acutely obvious how close last week’s fire came to causing a catastrophic wipeout that would have taken months to fix.
The searing heat and smoke came within two metres of the main distribution frame (MDF), which carries wired connections to about 30,000 Warrnambool properties.
Had it not been for a closed door separating the MDF room from an adjacent room where flames were licking, technicians would now have the huge task of rebuilding the mass of thin wires and their intricate connections.
“That would have been disastrous and who knows how long it would have taken us to restore links,” Telstra regional manager Bill Mundy said yesterday during a tour of the Koroit Street exchange.
“The fire started in a common room and flames were spreading before firefighters were able to bring it under control. As it stands we lost key overhead cabling in the transmitting-switching area and equipment was damaged by soot, smoke and water.
“We are working around the clock to replace kilometres of cables and equipment and are progressively getting services back on line.
“No expense is being spared in restoring services. In the space of a few days we are doing projects that would normally take six months.”
Warrnambool and the immediate district, including Koroit, Nullawarre and Port Fairy, is yet to get full restoration of basic landlines, but most of the wider region was back in service by yesterday afternoon.
“We have 97 per cent of 3G mobile services back,” Mr Mundy said.
“Because of the complexity and sheer volume of work in running new cables and fitting new equipment we can’t do it all at once.
“Hopefully we can have all basic landline services and mobiles running by the end of the week.
“Apart from the priority emergency services, at-risk health patients and key businesses, we don’t pick and choose who comes on.
“It’s a matter of what lines come up as new equipment is fitted and the old gear comes to life again.”
ADSL internet lines will be progressively restored next week as a new equipment base is built. The Warrnambool exchange fed 65,000 landlines, about 15,000 broadband customers and more than 80 mobile towers.
In response to questions about why so much of the region was dependent on one base, Telstra said it was an extremely rare outage and a back-up exchange would be a huge capital expenditure.
Mr Mundy said the company was grateful for the help of local suppliers and tradesmen in helping its huge team in the rebuilding work.
The company has suspended customer billing and credit management since the outage and stopped telemarketing callers and Sensis directory sales into the area.