A call for vendors to propose how to offer Internet access to passengers and an array of operational services is out: The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), which operates the Capitol Corridor line from Auburn (northeast of the state capital of Sacramento) to San Jose, has issued a request for qualifications for vendors to tell them how Internet service robust enough for railroad security and operational purposes, coupled with free access for passengers, could be built.
The vendor with the best plan will move forward to develop a comprehensive bid for both the C.C. line and the Caltrans San Joaquin Intercity Rail service, which runs from Oakland to Bakersfield and Sacramento to Bakersfield. The two lines intersect at Stockton, and run on the same track from there to and from Bakersfield.
This would be a fairly massive undertaking, involving 171 miles on the C.C. route and a total of 365 miles on the San Joaquin route. Multiple other firms are involved in train, track, and right-of-way ownership, including Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Amtrak. Service would need to be high speed and consistent on trains; stations would need to be equipped as well.
The RFQ is agnostic about technology, looking to vendors to provide details about how they might use an array of cellular, WiMax, and other services on a variety of licensed and unlicensed bands, although the proposal requires the use of the 4.9 GHz band for public safety purposes. A single contractor would be preferable, but many sub-contractors could be hired on.
Internet access and general services would be provided over Wi-Fi in the trains. A vendor that's chosen will be paid to provide the free Internet service to passengers; that will need to be part of the bid. The vendor could contract this out, and could optionally display advertising to offset some costs. User accounts will be required for access.
The goal is to have a single unified network that provides all the operational functions needed for trains, including communications, video surveillance, ticketing, remote telemetry, and public access. The expectation is that backhaul will be pieced together from several kinds of services because the both the routes in question have rural and urban, flat and hilly, and bare and leafy areas. Some cameras will be placed in fixed positions; others will be on trains, some even carried by conductors.
Another consideration is that the system must be built with upgrades in mind: better, faster backhaul (like LTE in 700 MHz or other technologies) have to be anticipated so that modules can be added or swapped out without a system redesign.
Those with relatively long memories will recall that Capitol Corridor had four vendors lined up to test approaches to Internet service on trains in 2006. That didn't pan out: EarthLink exited the business; another vendor had impractically large equipment; and so on. Three years later, a lot was learned and Caltrans signed on, while there are now several technology contenders in shipping equipment that could work, likely in some combination.