Providing Wi-Fi on board trains is certainly something to shout about. The photo above shows an international train at Meidling station in Vienna (24 January 2015) waiting to go to Hungary. Picture by Jerry Alderson.

Railfuture welcomes an announcement by the UK government on 11th February showing its commitment to providing Wi-Fi on trains across Britain. It clearly recognises one of the main advantages of going by train - the ability to be highly productive whilst travelling. This is hugely important to the country’s economy.

The announcement can be read at

Railfuture director Jerry Alderson makes considerable use of Wi-Fi on both a laptop and a smartphone. Whilst pleased by the announcement he warns that there are precious few firm commitments.

The acceptance by government that Wi-Fi is now an essential across te rail network is welcome, especially as it will be free rather than another money-spinner for the rail industry and government. The confirmation that all new franchises (both competitive and direct award) must explain how Wi-Fi will be provided is the kind of assurance that Railfuture wants, although it doesn’t guarantee that anything will actually be delivered.

That approximately £50m funding from Network Rail’s fines will be used to provide Wi-Fi is surely yet another case of the government re-announcing news that was released last year (something governments of all colours do). However, it’s definitely a good thing that passengers will not have to wait years for a new franchise to commence before getting Wi-Fi. In theory all TOCs could be providing it by 2018, but not necessarily on every train.

The government has given no indication of the level of fleet coverage that is desired, and there is nothing in the brief statement to guarantee that the new Class 700 Thameslink trains will have Wi-Fi. The lack of something so vital and yet so basic seems incredulous given that so much money is being spent on this huge new fleet being built in Germany. Railfuture lobbied the DfT, the train franchise bidders, and Go-via Thameslink Railway after it had won the franchise without success until now.

What is not stated at all is the proportion of the money that will go to Network Rail to provide a signal along the route (where mobile signals are poor, especially in tunnels) and the proportion going to the TOCs to install receivers and transmitters on the trains.

Two crucial bits of the story are missing. Firstly how much capacity will be provided in the Wi-Fi on board (and how resilient will it be)? Often Wi-Fi is slow because too many passengers are using the limited capacity. Secondly will power sockets be provided. Smartphones, in particular, are very hungry when constantly searching for Wi-Fi signals, never mind about powering the screen. Because people could use their own 3G/4G signal the power points may be more important than the Wi-Fi.

Railfuture campaigns for both Wi-Fi and power sockets, not just on board trains but at stations as well.

Read previous articles by this writer: Cheapest fares by law?, Bring Back BR?, Public Sector Franchises, Fare Increase Viewpoint and Tube Staffing.