Plan to boost mobile signal on rail link

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MOBILE phone companies are planning major coverage improvements on the main railway line between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh to remove many of the blind spots that interrupt calls.

All four mobile networks told The Scotsman they are upgrading masts and equipment to increase signal quality along the line over the next year.

The move was welcomed by business groups, but the official passenger watchdog body said the overuse of mobile phones on trains was a major gripe among passengers.

GNER is also improving its facilities for business travellers by extending its wireless internet connections on trains, enabling passengers to use their laptops to go on line via an uninterrupted satellite link.

The Edinburgh-Glasgow route is used by 9,000 passengers a day, the majority of them business commuters, but a series of cuttings, tunnels and other black spots can seriously hamper mobile phone use.

Trouble spots on some networks include areas near Linlithgow, Falkirk, Croy and Bishopbriggs.

However, many of these no-coverage areas are expected to disappear with the completion of work by Vodaphone, Orange, T-Mobile and O2.

Vodaphone said it was erecting new masts,resituating others, installing new equipment and redirecting signals. A spokesman said: "Work is taking place as part of a massive scheme to improve coverage and quality along the railways, which should be complete in a year’s time.

"Customers should start to notice improvements by the end of this year."

He said the project covered more than 90 routes, which also included the Newcastle-Edinburgh and Manchester-Glasgow lines.

Orange said it was acquiring more mast sites to provide "near enough 100 per cent" coverage from next year. O2 also said it was adding extra masts to meet customer demand.

A spokesman for T-Mobile, which includes Virgin Mobile, said: "We are looking into improvements along the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, although some cuttings will make it hard to install effective coverage."

A spokeswoman for ScotRail said the improvements would bring extra benefits to passengers. She added: "We would welcome any steps that would allow our customers to make more effective use of their travelling time - which is already an advantage of the train over the car."

CBI Scotland, which represents more than 26,000 businesses, said there had been concerns about the large number of coverage blind spots.

Allan Hogarth, its spokesman, said: "Any move to improve the quality of mobile coverage on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line would be much appreciated by business users, who are frequently frustrated by the lack of coverage."

However, the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland urged people using mobile phones on trains to be considerate to fellow passengers.

Sharon Hume, the deputy secretary, said: "A lot of passengers absolutely detest listening to other people ranting on into their mobiles.

"Phone-free coaches would not be commercially viable for ScotRail, so mobile users should be aware of their impact on other travellers."

Several other train operators, including GNER and Virgin, have "quiet coaches" in which mobile phone use is banned.

However, such long-distance trains have more coaches than those on ScotRail’s Edinburgh-Glasgow services, making mobile-free carriages more viable.

Mobile coverage is expected to be further boosted when Network Rail installs a new communications system across the UK in nine years’ time.

Technology will improve links between train drivers and signal staff, but the new, taller masts that it will require could also be used for transmission equipment by the mobile phone networks.

Improvements could make train travel more attractive to phone addicts, because non-hands-free use while driving is now illegal. Latest industry estimates show there are now nearly 50 million mobiles in use across Britain

CLEAR CHAT FOR 15 MINUTES, BUT JUST BEFORE FALKIRK HIGH THE LINE WENT ...

TRACEY LAWSON

I WAS just getting to the bit about Ian Poulter’s Union Jack trews when the line went dead. Having lost many a loved one and business acquaintance while travelling through the wilds of West Lothian, I was not surprised.

As a commuter on the Glasgow to Edinburgh line, I have resolved that the nine hours I spend on the train each week could be put to more productive, telephonic use - work calls, personal chats, perhaps a little banking.

But I have discovered that it pays to know exactly when to make that call.

With this in mind, I boarded the 22:34 out of Haymarket last Friday with the rather mundane mission of making a mobile phone reception map, so that the next time my bank manager says no, he does not think I have slammed down the phone.

The initial stretch was not bad. I had been on the train eight minutes before the line went dead, somewhere around Ingliston. Redialling at 22:49, I managed to talk all the way past Linlithgow. I’d very nearly reached Falkirk High before the line cut out, at 23:04. Back on at 23:06, the reception was good as the train pulled into Falkirk and out again. But just three minutes later, the voice sounded wobbly, and silence ensued.

From 23:12 to 23:16, when the train arrived at Croy, things sounded pretty good - until the clear voice at the other end began asking, loudly, whether I was still there. This one-way conversation continued until 23:21, with not a word I uttered heard, at which point we were cut off.

Redialling at Lenzie at 23:23, there was a brief three-minute window until the reception fizzled out. Another shot at 23:27 proved rather fruitless, too, and at 23:29 I switched off.

It was now 23:30 and journey’s end, at Queen Street station. Conclusion? All calls that count on the Glasgow-Edinburgh line should be made during that 15-minute window between Ingliston and Falkirk High.

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