Responding to customer demand, Amtrak and its California passenger rail partners are today launching free Wi-Fi service on all three state-supported routes. The launch coincides with “Cyber Monday,” the busiest Internet holiday shopping day of the year, allowing passengers onboard to shop online.
Using any laptop computer or Wi-Fi enabled device, passengers traveling on the Capitol Corridor (Auburn-Sacramento-Emeryville/SF-Oakland-San Jose), San Joaquin (Sacramento-Oakland-Bakersfield), and Pacific Surfliner (San Diego- LA-Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo) trains now can connect to the Internet through AmtrakConnectSM for general Web surfing and using e-mail. Passengers also can use the Wi-Fi service to access corporate networks through most standard Virtual Private Networks (VPN), turning train trips into productive work time.
California state passenger rail agencies funded the implementation of Wi-Fi by reinvesting cost savings from prior completed rail projects, further improving the attractiveness of this green travel mode.
In Amtrak’s fiscal year 2011, more than 5.5 million passengers rode the three California state-supported trains, up about 7.5 percent over the previous year. California ridership represents nearly 20 percent of all Amtrak passengers. Wi-Fi service has been the most requested amenity by passengers using these trains and experience on other WiFi-enabled intercity routes indicates that more people are enticed to travel on WiFi-enabled trains.
“Free Wi-Fi is our early holiday gift to loyal train passengers who have wanted this service for some time,” said Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Managing Director David Kutrosky. “Adding another great onboard amenity like Wi-Fi makes travel by train even more attractive.
Our customers can now make their travel mode choice based on which mode is more productive or entertaining, soon making these trains the preferred means of interregional travel.”
While Wi-Fi service has long been a priority for Amtrak, the biggest obstacle to providing Internet connectivity on trains is the limited bandwidth available through third-party cellular data networks along many routes, which provides the backhaul connection for on-board Wi-Fi. Amtrak is continuing to explore ways to expand that coverage through talks with cellular companies. Importantly, the AmtrakConnect technology is designed in a way that enables it to take advantage of technology improvements such as faster 4G speeds, as they become available along the routes.
“We’re taking maximum advantage of the existing infrastructure to offer Wi-Fi service to our passengers,” says Lenetta McCampbell, Amtrak senior director of on board systems. “And we’re poised to improve upon those offerings rapidly as the networks we tap into advance.”