Commentary on transportation in Connecticut and the Northeast by JIM CAMERON, for 19 years a member of the CT Rail Commuter Council.
Jim is also the founder of a new advocacy effort: www.CommuterActionGroup.org
Disclaimer: his comments are only his own. All contents of this blog are (c) Cameron Communications Inc
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March 26, 2016
Why There Never May Be Wi-Fi on Metro-North
few weeks ago a friend was showing me his new Chevy Volt. Not only does the hybrid-electric car get 42
mpg, it has its own Wi-Fi hotspot.
That’s right. The car is a Wi-Fi
device, so kids in the backseat can watch YouTube.
But there is no Wi-Fi on
Metro-North. And the railroad says none
is planned, even though the new M8 railcars are ready for the needed gear. And therein lies a story.
Offering Wi-Fi on a moving vehicle
usually involves cellular technology.
That’s how the first airline Wi-Fi was offered by companies like Go-Go,
though JetBlue and Southwest now rely on proprietary satellite systems which are much faster (up to 30 MB
When Amtrak first offered Wi-Fi on its
Acela trains between Washington and Boston, they immediately had bandwidth
issues. So many passengers were using
their cell phones and tablets, speeds dropped to 0.6 mb per second and the complaints came pouring in.
That’s part of the reason that
Metro-North is reluctant to offer Wi-Fi:
if an Acela train carrying 300 passengers can’t handle the online load,
how could a ten-car train carrying a thousand commuters? The railroad has enough complaints as it is.
Pay phone on Japanese train
Metro-North’s experience with on-board
communications has left them feeling burned.
Remember years ago when the railroad installed cellular pay-phones on the
trains? Great idea, until a year later
when costs came down and everyone had their own cell phone. Those pay cell phone booths went unused and
were eventually removed.
Back in 2006 then-President of MNRR
Peter Cannito said Wi-Fi would be built into the new M8
cars, both for
passengers and to allow the railcars to “talk” to HQ by beaming diagnostic
reports. The railroad issued an RFP for
ideas and got a number of responses, including from Cablevision, with whom they
negotiated for many months. They even initiated
on-train testing of Wi-Fi gear on one railcar.
But Metro-North insisted any Wi-Fi
would have to cost the railroad nothing: that all the expense and tech risk would be borne
by Cablevision or its customers. And
that’s where the negotiations deadlocked.
Today the railroad sees Wi-Fi as just
a convenience. Smart phones and
cell-card configured laptops can access the internet just fine, they say, using
cellular technology. But to their credit
the railroad is trying to get cell providers to fill in the coverage gaps, like
in the tunnels and at GCT.
So don’t look for Wi-Fi anytime soon
on America’s biggest and busiest commuter railroad. It’s not seen as a necessity… except perhaps
by its passengers who really have no other transportation option.