Digging a Telstra Lead In Trench

After being told by Telstra that the lead-in cable to our house was damaged, I was told to contact a local contractor who could come and dig a new ditch from our home to the footpath.

Rather than pay a contractor up to $300 per hour (so I’ve been told) to dig the trench, I decided to tackle the project myself, and I’m very pleased to say that the project was a success!

Here’s how it happened:

Step 1 – Research

Google wasn’t as helpfully as I thought it would be, as I guess not many people decide to dig their own lead-in ditch.  Thankfully I did find some resources through the Telstra website and the Whirlpool forums, which you can check out here:

Telstra 1 | Telstra 2 | Whirlpool

According to the info I found, the trench had to be 300mm deep and with a reasonable amount of clearance from any water carrying pipes.

Step 2 – Dial Before You Dig

This was probably the easiest part of the project.  I simply entered my details on the Dial Before You Dig website and within a day or two I received emailed maps from the local council, Unity Water, Telstra and Energex.

The maps gave me the all clear, and the only hiccup was when I received a call from Telstra telling me there was some rather expensive fibre optic cable buried in the area.  She assured me it should only be outside of the property border, so hopefully everything would be okay.

Step 3 – Start Digging

I decided to follow the existing lead-in cable from the house to the footpath where the Telstra pit was located.  This was fairly straightforward, as I simply followed the existing cable down the side of the house and started digging.

Because I already knew the cable was damaged, it wasn’t such a big deal if I further damaged the cable during the digging process.  And yes, I did slice through the conduit and cable a few times!

I enlisted the help of a mate (thanks David!) and we used a flat shovel to dig out the grass first rather than digging straight in with the mattock.  We managed to save most of the grass, and I’m pleased to report that at the time of writing the grass has survived and is back in its place.

The depth of the existing cable varied from around 100mm to 150mm, which is well short of the 300mm required by Telstra.  So once the existing cable was out, I then proceeded to dig further down to make sure I had a uniform depth of 300mm.

The picture above shows the trench after the initial digging, before going down to 300mm.  You can see the broken conduit laying around, as well as the grass we carefully removed.

Snag Number 1 – Storm Water Pipe

Whilst digging down to the required 300mm depth I hit the storm water pipe.  Thankfully these old pipes are made from super thick concrete or some sort of ceramic, so a few hits from my mattock barely chipped them.

It did raise a problem though – according to the specifications I read, there had to be around 100mm clearance from any storm water pipes.

There was no way I was moving the trench or digging it any deeper to go under the storm water pipe, so I simply brushed some dirt over the pipes to keep them out of site.  Easy!

Snag Number 2 – I haven’t gone deep enough

I don’t know why, but after completing the ditch and calling Telstra to book in a time for the new cabling to be installed, I decided to do some further research on the trench specifications.

I found a Telstra document more recent than the ones I had originally used (although now I’ve lost the link, sorry!) and much to my horror it said the trench must be at least 350mm deep, with a recommended depth of 400mm.

Needless to say, I decided to pretend never reading that document, and left my trench at 300mm.

Step 4 – Installing the Conduit and Cable

The Telstra guy arrived late on a Friday afternoon, thinking he was just hooking up a new connection.  Then I showed him the trench…  We didn’t know it at the time, but it was going to be a long afternoon.

The process took hours longer than it should have, and required further digging between the property border and the footpath to fix up a blockage in the pipe.  It turned out that the conduit running from the property border under the footpath and into the Telstra pit was damaged.

After a bit of swearing and some lost skin from our knuckles, we finally managed to get the conduit and cable from the pit through to my trench.  From there, the process of laying the conduit and cable was very easy.

Once the Telstra guy had finished his work, we tested the line and it worked fine.  I was pretty pleased with that, and also very pleased that there was no scrutiny of my potentially too shallow trench.

Given that the existing trench was only 100 – 150mm deep, the new trench is twice as deep and should provide plenty of protection for the cable.

Step 5 – Fill in the hole

Thankfully we thought ahead when digging the trench, and laid all of the grass in order as we removed it.  This meant the grass went back into place relatively easily, and has left our front lawn as undisturbed as possible.

This picture was taken just after the grass was re-laid.  You can still clearly see where the ditch was, but this should clear up within a month or two.

Conclusion

Digging the trench yourself may seem daunting at first, but once you get into the job it’s pretty easy.  Expect to have blistered hands and sore arms afterwards, but if you ask me it’s better than paying someone else $300 an hour to dig up your front yard.