The train from Worcester through Framingham into Boston, Mass., adds Internet access via Wi-Fi in pilot project: A popular 45-mile commuter line will have at least one car per train with Internet service, with the intention of expanding access to all 13 commuter lines in Massachusetts. The line carries 18,000 passengers daily across 17 stations.
This would be likely be the largest deployment of train-based Wi-Fi outside of Europe, where GNER in the UK and SJ in Sweden have a couple dozen trains on a small number of lines unwired. This trial uses Sprint's EVDO service through an external antenna mounted on each car; 45 coaches are currently set up for Wi-Fi. The authority has already received piles of enthusiastic comments. No word on which service provider (if any) is involved among the several companies that unwire trains.
I've been predicting more train-Fi on commuter rail in the U.S. for a long time based on hard information from rail authorities. It's just harder than it looks. Unlike, say, bus Fi, where cell access is available along highways, or ferry Fi, where the ferries run fixed routes across water where you can point antennas, rail lines--even commuter rail--run along often highly variable terrain or inaccessible paths. It's just hard to get a constant signal. Most likely, most rail lines will need a combination of fixed, satellite, and cellular service--perhaps two or all three.
There's really no substantial Wi-Fi on board trains in the U.S. now. ACE in California no longer even discusses the future of its Wi-Fi on its Web site, even though it was the pioneer, and has been saying for about two years that Wi-Fi was returning. CalTrain dropped its plan due to cost in the South Bay Area. Capitol Corridor (Sacramento to San Jose) has a plan underway that should result in service in 2009. Elsewhere, I hear rumblings about BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), Amtrak (Northeast Corridor), and other lines, but no public announcements.