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Recent Entries

Amtrak's Semi-Confusing Internet Access Message
BART Unwired
Parsons Sells Its Last Transit Wi-Fi Service
SNCF Promises Wi-Fi Service for TGV Est Line by 2010
BART Wi-Fi Plan Not in Jeopardy over Funding
Utah's FrontRunner Commuter Rail Unwired
Thalys Hits Glitch in Impressive Train Launch
BART Wi-Fi Access Moves Closer in Bay Area
Successful Commuter Rail Trial in Bay Area May Lead to System-Wide Coverage
Worcester Train-Fi: New Commuter Rail Wi-Fi Pilot

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February 8, 2009

Amtrak's Semi-Confusing Internet Access Message

By Glenn Fleishman

A few news outlets picked up a statement from NewYorkology last week that implied Amtrak was looking into on-board Internet service: But when you read the statement, it's not quite what some sites are making it out to be. "Amtrak continues to explore options which will ultimately allow us to offer Wi-Fi service to our passengers," is what Cliff Cole of Amtrak reportedly said via email.

Given that the organization still claims to be offering Wi-Fi in several northeast corridor stations, even though correspondent Klaus Ernst has seemingly confirmed that the service is gone (and T-Mobile never gave me an official statement on the matter), it's hard to know what that means.

There are now several functioning Internet-on-rails systems around the world, so there should be many more choices to pull from, especially on the most popular northeast Amtrak routes. It's also possible that the organization could use a relatively small amount of funding to create a trial or two, and test customer willingness to pay.

Amtrak saw a large uptick in ridership, as did most public transit systems, during the similar uptick in gas and oil prices. With people out of work, it's likely that trains will be used even more if competitive with the costs of driving.

Trains still have a unique advantage in most U.S. cities that have service in providing stations right in the middle of towns; airports, you have both the security theater delays and the process of estimating 90 to 120 minutes to get somewhere that's 30 minutes away to give yourself 30 to 120 minutes before a flight leaves.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:57 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 30, 2009

BART Unwired

By Glenn Fleishman

Wi-Fi Rail says they're starting work on putting the Internet into the BART system: After many months of contract drafting or other bureaucratic hinkiness, Wi-Fi Rail has a signed contract with the Bay Area Rapid Transportation system operators. BART covers a huge hunk of the San Francisco Bay Area, out into suburbs and even former exurbs.

Wi-Fi Rail said in a press release that they'll have the first chunk of the system active in 2009, although they continue to operate four downtown San Francisco stations and some of the tunnel between them, as they have for well over a year. (During which time, 15,000 users registered.)

Update: The San Francisco Chronicle adds a few details. The contract is for 20 years. The first rollout of the project will cover San Francisco and Oakland stations, and the trans-bay tunnel that connects SF and Oakland. BART comprises 104 miles of track and 43 stations, all of which would be covered.

The company uses a kind of leaky coax, a method of turning a stretch of wire into an antenna, to provide continuous high-speed coverage in tunnels, which is a neat trick. They claim the consistent ability to reach 15 Mbps upstream and downstream.

The system will be fee-based: $6 for two hours, $9 per day, or $30 per month. Don't expect to buy a Boingo or iPass plan and get unlimited BART roaming, too, from what Wi-Fi Rail has previously said. The Chronicle reported that Wi-Fi Rail will offer chunks of 3 1/2 minutes of free service followed by 30 seconds of ads.

With the huge growth in Wi-Fi–enabled handhelds (phones, gaming devices, and music players), Wi-Fi Rail expects that its high-bandwidth offering will have many takers.

Only two potential customers for the service were quoted in the Chronicle's article. Thomas Hawk, a well-known photographer who works for Zooomr, makes the rather insane statement that having systemwide Wi-Fi that he'd have to pay for isn't worthwhile. For a photographer, I'd think a reasonably priced 15 Mbps upstream connection would be crazily useful. But that's just me. I have 768 Kbps upstream at home (3 Mbps down), and would die for 2 or 3 Mbps upstream, even.

At $9 per day, of course, that's too much. But the Chronicle should have found a few business commuters, for whom an extra 60 to 90 minutes of work per day en route (instead of at home or at the office) would make a difference.


[photo used under Creative Commons license from Beatrice Murch]

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 7:42 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 13, 2009

Parsons Sells Its Last Transit Wi-Fi Service

By Glenn Fleishman

Parsons at one point seemed determine to be involved in every major transportation-based Internet access system; no longer: The multinational firm has completed the transfer of its operation of the VIA Rail Internet service, distributed to passengers over Wi-Fi, to 21Net. 21Net has been involved in setting up European rail access, including for Renfe (Spain), SNCF (France), and Thalys (cross borders).

Parsons late last year spun off its co-owned Opti-Fi airport division to Boingo Wireless, and then its Washington State Ferry operations to Boingo as well. Boingo is now, by far, the largest operator of airline Internet (and cellular) service in the world--you can measure that by airports, passenger volumes, or guessed-at session counts.

The VIA Rail offering has been in place for several years, moving to a higher-speed offering a couple of years ago under Parsons banner. The service operates only on the line between Windsor and Quebec City.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:27 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

November 20, 2008

SNCF Promises Wi-Fi Service for TGV Est Line by 2010

By Glenn Fleishman

SNCF in France says they'll install Internet service on their entire TGV Est fleet by 2010: We've seen this promise before, so excuse me if I'm a wee bit dubious about the French train operator SNCF's claim that the service will span all their equipment. Despite Internet access over Wi-Fi being available on several train lines in Europe, including multiple lines in the UK, the biggest announcements always seem to fizzle out. The Dutch train operator was supposed to unwire their fleet a couple years ago and backed away, for instance.

SNCF says they'll have for-fee service in 1st and 2nd class areas of TGV Est trains (about 50 of them) by third quarter 2009 in some trains, and full coverage in 2010. These high-speed trains cross borders in all directions.

A free portal will be available for information and entertainment access within a train. Fees for access might cost €5 to €10, which is outrageously high, unless you compare it to the very high costs of Wi-Fi across Europe, where you can pay US$30 or more for 24 hours access in some hotels.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 10:47 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

October 31, 2008

BART Wi-Fi Plan Not in Jeopardy over Funding

By Glenn Fleishman

The Examiner reports that Wi-Fi Rail may be in trouble about signing contract with BART, raising money: But Wi-Fi Rail says it ain't so. Cooper Lee, the company's head, just called to let me know that the focus of the article was a bit off. In an earlier version of this item on Wi-Fi Networking News, I wrote:

"Wi-Fi Rail spoke bluntly to the San Francisco Examiner five months after the board of the Bay Area Rapid Transit plan had approved contract negotiations for a full-blown installation. The negotiations aren't finished, and the tight credit market means it might take months after signing a deal for Wi-Fi Rail to raise the necessary funds."

Lee said, however, that they've already raised the money they need for the next 12 months, and that they believe they'll sign a contract soon. Lee said that the company needs to spend a total of $20m over 24 months, but that $9m are in equipment leases, which is simple financing.

He also said that much of the negotiation with BART was ensuring that the ramp-up for customers and revenue was fair relative to the fees paid to BART; BART doesn't want Wi-Fi Rail to be saddled with obligations they can't meet before customers appear, which makes sense for a transit authority looking many years into the future. They'd rather have a stable than a squeezed provider, obviously.

Lee said the company is moving forward with the expectation they'll be able to start work soon, hopefully before Christmas.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:41 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

June 13, 2008

Utah's FrontRunner Commuter Rail Unwired

By Glenn Fleishman

The newly launched 40-mile commuter rail line, FrontRunner, goes official with its free Wi-Fi: Nomad Digital, one of the longest-established firms providing connectivity to trains, has unwired the 12 double-decker trains on this new line, which opened for service in late April. About 1,000 passengers ride the route from Ogden to Salt Lake City each day (as of mid-May), and the service logged 700 users per day just a few days ago. Speeds aren't noted. Nomad worked with local firm Wasatch Electric and uses Redline gear. (The press release isn't up at this writing, nor has either the rail authority nor Nomad's site been updated.)

That's an insanely large percentage of riders using the service, so it's possible ridership has increased even more than the mid-May figures indicate, or the commuters are really intense computer and handheld users. Also, note that the FAQ for the authority's overall Wi-Fi service requires you to be 18 years or older. It is Utah, after all--a minor might do something dirty with the service and the transit authority would be held responsible. The authority offers Wi-Fi on some buses, too.

The network is backed by fiber that runs alongside the track, which can make a huge difference in the ability to bring in backhaul. Other train lines have to work with either or both cellular and satellite backhaul, although Nomad typically uses fixed WiMax, as they are in this deployment. They're finishing up a 600 km London to Glasgow route for Virgin in the UK, which will be vastly larger than any other Internet-equipped route in the world.

This is one of the first major production service launches of train-based Wi-Fi in the U.S. VIA Rail in Canada is the only other in-production system offering in-transit Wi-Fi on a train line in North America. There are several trials, pilots, and phased-in plans underway. I thought 2007 would be the year that train-based Internet access took off; looks like it will leave the station worldwide in 2009, perhaps due to better 3G cell cover and improved antenna designs, as well as new commuter rail systems like FrontRunner that are designed with the idea of connectivity.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:34 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

May 14, 2008

Thalys Hits Glitch in Impressive Train Launch

By Glenn Fleishman

Thalys has launched Internet service on high-speed train routes between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne: The service hit glitches in its big press rollout, but glitches shouldn't be mistaken for actual performance. The satellite-backed service pulls down 2 Mbps of ruinously expensive backhaul, compressed to provide speeds that feel like 4 Mbps. (Read: faster for email, TIFF images, certain PowerPoint presentations, and Web pages with gzip disabled; normal rate for JPEGs, GIFs, compressed Web pages, and PDFs.)

The service will cost first-class passengers not a thing, but coach will pay €6.50 (US$10) per hour or €13 (US$20) for an entire trip. The train operator is initially equipping 7 trains, but will complete work on all 26 trains by October. Trip durations run from 1 hour 20 minutes to 3 hours.

Most impressively, the consortium that built the system is using a pretty modest antenna that moves automatically to stay in contact with the satellite. It's 80 by 72 cm (31.5 by 28.3 inches), and plans are to shrink that to something 2/3rds the height when a new dish is certified. Ultimately, IDG News Service reports, the group plans to use 3 cm (1 in) high phased-array antennas that would cover the train's roof. Very, very clever, as it jettisons any moving parts.

Three companies worked on the technology: Telenet, handling the billing and authentication, is a Belgian ISP that also runs hotspots; Nokia Siemens is a well-known systems integrator, and is providing some gear and handling installation and integration; 21Net, perhaps the least-well known partner, has the satellite technology.

This project dates back to at least 25-April-2005, a point at which 21Net and Nokia Siemens announced a successful test on the Thalys run from Brussels to Paris.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:50 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

April 9, 2008

BART Wi-Fi Access Moves Closer in Bay Area

By Glenn Fleishman

WiFi Rail may sign contract with Bay Area Rapid Transit soon: That's typical marketing fare from many companies, to pre-announce deals, but a BART official confirmed the state of negotiations in this Sacramento Bee article. I had a long talk with the WiFi Rail folks a few months ago, and they sent me some fascinating video of a live four-way video chat with three participants communicating from moving trains.

Their technical description of what they're doing makes a lot of sense, and if they can pull off their trial work in a production environment, they will have a set of patents and products that will likely be the model for deploying subway and train Wi-Fi in urban areas around the world. Yes, that's a big claim; but they have a unique and interesting solution.

The company told the Bee that they would start on heavily traveled underground routes first, with service available within 4 months of a contract. WiFi Rail relies on leaky coax, which is wiring that runs in the tunnel already, and they've overlaid Wi-Fi signals on in a way that simulates a very long antenna.

The Bee reports that they've raised $1.5m in financing so far with another round of $15m to $20m to close later this year. With a BART contract in hand, I can't imagine they'll have any difficulty getting funds. Captive audiences are worth the big bucks.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:39 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

January 31, 2008

Successful Commuter Rail Trial in Bay Area May Lead to System-Wide Coverage

By Glenn Fleishman

WiFi Rail announced they successfully carried about 15 Mbps of symmetrical traffic across a 2.6-mile test area of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system at up to 65 mph: The test covered above-ground and tunnel passages around Hayward, Calif. Roaming is seamless across the test area, the company said.

In an interview this morning, company founder and CEO Cooper Lee said that the secret sauce was in making "leaky coax" work, which is continuous copper coaxial cable that's left uninsulated in a particular fashion to allow signals to be passed over as if it were an antenna. Leaky coax is widely used for radio coverage in tunnels--it's even how AM/FM is carried through underground passages around cities.

WiFi Rail had to develop its own technology, including specialized amplifiers and high-performance filters coupled with Cisco radios and technology to pull tunnel service off. "It's a lot more than just tried it and it worked," said Lee. The system doesn't treat an entire run of coax as one access point, but rather they push signals from two access points, one on other end, using different channels. The signals taper off for a seamless handoff in the middle of the 2,200-ft run involved in the Hayward test.

Let me just point out that this is the sweetest possible network to build: Rights of way are controlled, the authority is apparently friendly, traffic is massive, commuters are already oriented to high-tech, cellular voice and data works only spottily, and the large scope of the service. If BART can have Wi-Fi, it's going to blow open the lid on commuter Wi-Fi across North America.

This initial proof-of-concept test, which involved working at times from 2 am to 4 am to access otherwise inaccessible equipment or avoid hours in which radio frequencies were in use, could lead to a system-wide deployment, pending BART's interest. The company would finance the deployment, which has a lot of characteristics that distinguish it from the spate of failed or faltering large-scale municipal Wi-Fi networks.

CFO Michael Cromar said, "We've built a business model that based on some relatively conservative assumptions, we think will give us pretty decent access to some private equity." He declined to disclose the expected cost of the network. The firm will benefit from existing coax in BART systems, and some backbone fiber, reducing their costs. Still, I would estimate such a system clearly will cost tens of millions to build--an exact price tag is tricky. BART comprises 104 miles, 43 stations, and 100m passenger trips (exit and entry) per year, or about 175,000 regular weekday riders.

The service, which tested out at 15 Mbps at 65 mph, would allow rich media--potentially from onboard equipment--along with VoIP and data. WiFi Rail might be in a position to extend cell carrier networks, too, using the same technology that's allowing them to overlay Wi-Fi on existing coax, or by providing bandwidth to carriers at strategic locations.

The network will cost users about $1 a day to use with a subscription, with various plans availble to reduce cost through usage or partnerships. The wholesale rate to roaming partners will be $1 for two hours: "It will be up to those services to decide what and how much they want to pass on to their customers the roaming fee," Cromar said.

An ad-supported option will also allow 5 minutes of use for every 30-second commercial viewed, through a partnership with JiWire. (Disclosure: I own a very small number of shares in JiWire, Inc.)

WiFi Rail won't start charging until its first phase is built, which they plan would span Oakland to Balboa Station in San Francisco, and take 3 to 5 months to build. The remaining system buildout time is roughly 15 to 18 months. Fees would be in proportion to the range of the system while it's under completion. Service is currently available in four downtown San Francisco locations at no charge; they've seen 6,400 registered users since they launched in June.

The folks at the company have ambition to bring their system beyond BART, even though just a single test segment has been completed. "We think there is a potentially very significant--you might call it a niche market, but it's a pretty significant niche market, for commuter inner-city rails, as well as metro systems, potentially even bus and ferry systems," Cromar said. "Anything that uses a predetermined path, where we could erect radios and antennas."

Part of the pitch to BART and other commuter systems will be video surveillance, which is a key aspect of interest to and funding by the Department of Homeland Security. Cromar said, "We've had six cameras all broadcasting at essentially 24 frames per second and higher, very high quality, and very high resolution, and still had much more than the typical Comcast cable modem or DSL conneciton that people would see in the home or office."

WiFi Rail has opted to bring fiber to each node with 100 Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth available at each location in order to provide the full capability of 802.11g. They're already thinking about 802.11n, trying to plan the network to be futureproofed with only radios needing swapping instead of basic infrastructure.

Unlike so many of the municipal projects, in which access to utility poles, the availability of electricity, and other facilities and infrastructure questions weren't known until later, BART controls its track and has detailed information about every part of the system. Also, BART is a single multi-governmental entity that can, in fact, make a decision about WiFi Rail without the same kind of political process that delayed or killed muni-Fi all over. (Not to pretend that BART isn't political; rather, the institution is designed to make institutional decisions that don't involve separate legislative/executive wrangling.)

This also ensures a knowable--not clean--radio frequency environment. BART has other radio uses, but they're in known places and can be characterized. CEO Lee noted, "If I pull up my laptop here in downtown San Francisco, I get 100 or more wireless networks that pop up out of the buildings. In a metro environment, there's no way to control the interference from everybody." By contrast, "Nobody else is going to put any antennas in the trackway, it's not possible," Lee said.

Ultimately, adding Internet access to commuter services has a lot to do with increasing ridership, allowing transportation authorities to improve their bottom line, remove cars from the road, and be part of larger efforts in changing cities and suburbs. "Increased ridership revenue for them for the most part goes right to the bottom line," Cowper said, as incremental passengers typically carry very little incremental costs--until ridership increases enough that the numbers justify adding more service.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:54 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments

January 27, 2008

Worcester Train-Fi: New Commuter Rail Wi-Fi Pilot

By Glenn Fleishman

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.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:18 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

December 4, 2007

More Train-Fi Cancellations: Dutch Railroad Says No

By Glenn Fleishman

NS, the Dutch train operator, suspends trials of onboard Internet, cancels plans (press release in Dutch): The operator, which was considering putting Internet service on hundreds of trains, says that the potential advertising revenue that they had planned to use to cover the service isn't enough, and that the costs of installing service exceeded their expectations. They're shutting down a trial of Internet access and train information that they've had underway for some months. They're refocused just on train information (like arrival times), which has smaller overhead.

This is yet another indication of the difficulty of providing Internet access to trains, but not the impossibility of it. Rail lines can opt for line-of-sight WiMax or equivalents, cell data networks, or satellite for backhaul. No option is cheap or easy, but all are possibilities.

Back in September, I noted that the three train lines in central California considering Internet service or having once deployed it--ACE, Caltrain, and Capitol Corridor--are currently all in abatement. ACE still has a coming soon banner on their site after many months; Caltrain decided the bids for service weren't a good deal for them; and Capitol Corridor never launched its pilot tests due to problems with bidders. Update: I was too hasty on Capitol Corridor's plans. They were able to participate in a joint test with Caltrain which, although costs weren't to Caltrain's liking, could work for the CC Joint Powers Authority that runs the rail. The agency documented its plan, which involves working closely with Union Pacific Railroad, for a full deployment by 2009 if all goes well in negotiations and planning.

When I wrote about train-Fi for the Economist on 21 Sept 2006, I had spoken and corresponded with a good 20 people in all aspects of the industry--service providers, private operators, train authorities, consultants, and so on. The general buzz then was that with a number of service providers working hard, that perhaps several hundred trains would be equipped with service by now. We're probably still at just above the same number as last year: perhaps 100 trains (not cars, but operating engines on lines) worldwide having real Internet service.

A catalyst might be needed, like a new, less expensive broadband satellite offering, cell operators extending their service specifically for trains along certain corridors, or simply more work on WiMax and other licensed technology that could be deployed in the right places.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 9:50 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

October 16, 2007

Wi-Fi Pulls into Amtrak Stations...Again

By Glenn Fleishman

Ah, how quickly they forget the first time around: AT&T Wireless once installed Wi-Fi at six Amtrak stations across the Northeast Corridor, but I don't believe it worked very well. The manager at Baltimore's Penn Station quoted in this Baltimore Sun article said they'd "experimented with a Wi-Fi connection." Hrmphf. In any case, AT&T Wireless became part of Cingular and now is just AT&T (wireless), and they've shed some of offering along the way.

The new Amtrak station Wi-Fi is run by T-Mobile, which doesn't forget that Wi-Fi is part of its business, and can also be found at the other Penn Station in New York City, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Wilmington Station (Delaware), and Union Station (D.C.).

The same station manager might be talking out of turn when he confirms a reporter's question about Wi-Fi on the trains. Amtrak has been rumored in the past to be considering it, but there are few trains in the U.S. that have any form of Internet access on board, and many projects have gone awry in recent months. I expect Amtrak would prefer that they make that sort of announcement directly. There's enough 3G along the Northeast corridor that it's likely a cell-based, somewhat continuous service could be offered with EVDO Rev. A backhauling it.

A typo in the article might reveal the heights to which Wi-Fi hype can climb: an expert consulted estimated "500,000 million" people use Wi-Fi worldwide. Adding the hyphen in makes that statement so much less interesting. But it's also less accurate. Tens of millions of people use Wi-Fi worldwide, not 500,000 to 1,000,000.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 3:22 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

September 7, 2007

Caltrain Rejects Wi-Fi Bids, Calif. Train-Fi Stalls; Thalys Signs Up in Europe

By Glenn Fleishman

The idea of having Internet access on board California trains seems to have stalled: Three potential projects to bring Wi-Fi to Bay Area commuter trains have stalled.

Caltrain just announced that after spending $300,000 in trials of Wi-Fi access on board trains last year, the agency rejected both bids to build out the service. They budgeted $1m to move forward and $3-4m for the whole project. The bidders weren't noted, but one was certainly Nomad Digital, which was involved in the tests. Apparently, they weren't satisfied with one bidder's costs, which result in a necessary subsidy, and the other's complexity. Caltrain covers the southern Bay peninsula from San Jose to San Francisco.

Altamount Commuter Express (ACE) was a pioneer in train-Fi. They went offline last year and are yet to return, although they have a logo and a planned date for completion (summer 2007, a season we're still technically not finished with). ACE runs from San Jose north via Fremont, then east to Pleasanton, Livermore, and Vasco.

Over at the Capitol Corridor, the project to test Internet service on board for operational and passenger purposes has languished; the initial bidders either pulled out or offered impractical options. The train's authority is still considering its options. Capitol Corridor runs from San Jose via Fremont to Sacramento.

In Europe, however, usage and offerings seem to keep expanding. Thalys just announced a cross-border deal that will put broadband on trains using satellite and cellular (GPRS/UMTS) combined backhaul. Trains will start having pilot installations in September, with production rollout in the fourth quarter. Thalys travels on routes that serve Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne at up to 300 km/h. They'll serve out Internet access alongside streaming media and games from onboard gear, with video on demand a later offering.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:08 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

August 21, 2007

VIA Rail Adds Wi-Fi to Western Canadian Train Stations

By Glenn Fleishman

VIA Rail Canada has put Wi-Fi into Vancouver, Jasper, Edmonton, and Winnipeg: The rail line travels from Vancouver to Toronto over three days; Wi-Fi will allow some interim contact, apparently. The service is for-fee for regular passengers; free for first class. Rates are C$3.99 for 15 minutes (plus C$0.30 thereafter), C$8.95 for 24 hours, and C$46 per month (special rate of C$29.95 until Aug. 31). VIA Rail was among the first firms to add Internet access to trains on a production process. It's available on their Québec City-Windsor run.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 2:35 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

August 14, 2007

Train Operator Promises Free Wireless in UK

By Glenn Fleishman

The operation of Britain's east coast mainline will switch in December; new provider promises free Wi-Fi for all: In the UK, rail infrastructure and operations are uncoupled, and the government awards contracts for lines to private firms. The east coast line has been run by GNER for several years in a generally positively received manner, but the firm can't afford the franchise fees going forward. National Express will take over in December of this year until spring 2015, paying nearly £1.4b for the privilege.

GNER was the second major rail line in the world to offer comprehensive Internet access; SJ was the first. Both projects originated with Icomera. GNER uses cellular backhaul for service, and the growth in 3G networks and the increase in speed allowed them to achieve quite comprehensive coverage and reasonable speeds. GNER charged for access in coach, providing it free to first class. National Express will offer free service in all classes.

Competition for the line was heated, and National Express kicked in free Wi-Fi among other incentives to get the bid. They're also promising to refund ticket fees if a passenger has to stand for an entire journey.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 6:50 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

June 11, 2007

BART System's Soft Launch of Train-Fi Gains Notice

By Glenn Fleishman

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system that links up much of the San Francisco Bay Area is in the first phases of a Wi-Fi rollout: As reported on this site earlier, through intelligence from veteran Wi-Fi guru Matt Peterson, Wi-Fi Rail has been turning on Wi-Fi at BART stations without any publicity. The company says that 1,000 riders have used the Wi-Fi service so far, with more each day (look for a spike today, no?).

The current test involves four stations in San Francisco (Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center). The test could lead to Wi-Fi Rail getting a contract to install service through the system's stations. They will likely charge $10 per day, $30 per month, or $300 per year.

While those interviewed in this article aren't jumping up and down about Wi-Fi, that's probably because of the lack of continuity of service at this moment. Most transportation-based Internet access--ferry, plane, or bus--offers service that starts and ends at stations or stops, but is available throughout. That's a long-term goal for this installation, according to BART. When people realize they can stay connected on a phone call, or use a handheld device with Wi-Fi throughout a trip, they'll be a bit more enthusiastic than they are about whipping out a laptop at a station.

While Wi-Fi is an option on several long-haul/cross-country trains in Canada, the UK, and Sweden, adoption in commuter rail, light rail, and subway systems will likely take quite a bit more testing before becoming commonplace. The challenges of routing signals across complex routes, much of which might involve underground tunnels, adds a lot of cost and complexity in planning, installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:56 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Commuting, Rails | 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

June 8, 2007

Calif.'s ACE Commuter Train To Re-Launch Wi-Fi Service

By Glenn Fleishman

Altamont Commuter Express was, at one point, the longest running Wi-Fi-on-rails production system: They ran into snags in providing a significant upgrade for their service, however, which has led to a year-long absence of service. The new satellite-based offering should be rolled out soon, with a price to be set. The University of Phoenix has had a long partnership with ACE, previously fully subsidizing the service, and offering classes on board. The subsidy amount remains to be determined with the new offering.

ACE runs from San Jose through Fremont (via a train station my dad used to own, no kidding), and then east through the foothills to Livermore, through Tracy, and up north to Stockton. When I grew up in the Bay Area, Livermore was practically ultima thule, not a suburb.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 4:59 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Commuting, Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

June 7, 2007

UK's Grand Central Railways Picks Icomera for Wi-Fi

By Glenn Fleishman

UK's Grand Central Railways chooses Icomera: The railway will equip all its carriages with onboard Internet service. Service will commence between Sunderland and London Kings Cross in Sept. 2007. Icomera is the world's largest operator of train-based Internet service. They cover dozens of trains in Britain's GNER line through a former joint venture (Icomera UK, which will handle Grand Central, too), and on the SJ line in Sweden. (Update: See comment--Icomera UK is now wholly owned by the Swedish parent firm.)

Despite rumors last year that the Dutch rail operator NS was preparing to deploy Wi-Fi access across its entire operations, there's been no motion on that front. A page from seemingly last year reports that the "draadloze internettoegang" (wireless Internet access) is in testing in 2006.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:43 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Rails | 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

May 17, 2007

Wi-Fi on a Train Conference

By Glenn Fleishman

They don't have a snakes-on-a-plane logo parody, I'm sorry to say: The BWCS consulting firm will host its second conference on installing Wi-Fi and Internet access in trains. Train systems worldwide are piloting and rolling out service, the most advanced stages of which are in the UK and Sweden at the moment; California is a coming flashpoint, too. Putting Wi-Fi on a train isn't just about giving commuters or long-route travelers access to email and YouTube. Rather, it's about offering in-transit entertainment through media servers on trains; sending train telemetry back to control centers; remote video surveillance; and voice communication while en route. Passenger access is a bonus, of course.

The conference runs June 6 and 7, 2007, in London. Leading specialized firms and train operators will be presenting and sponsoring the event. (I would normally suggest attendees visit the London Transport Museum as well, but it's closed until this fall!)

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 1:07 PM | Permanent Link | Categories: Conferences, Rails | 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

March 19, 2007

Metro-North Adds Wi-Fi to Stations

By Glenn Fleishman

Commuters would probably also like to have Wi-Fi on trains: Cities along the Metro-North New Haven Line have added Wi-Fi to some stations: South Norwalk last week and Westport this week. The state's busiest train station, Stamford, will have service next. The funding came from federal grants designed to improve commerce in Fairfield County, and the grant pays for a year's worth of service. "If I miss my train and have to wait, I'll be able to use my laptop," one commuter said.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman at 11:20 AM | Permanent Link | Categories: Commuting, Rails | No Comments | No TrackBacks

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