Wifi ScotRail commuters could miss their connection, minister admits
A LONG-AWAITED wifi trial on ScotRail’s busiest route may not work fully and passengers have only a one-in-ten chance of travelling on an equipped train, the transport minister admitted yesterday.
• Company plan to roll wi-fi service out across network if trial a success
• One in ten Edinburgh to Glasgow trains will be fitted out with wi-fi equipment during the trial
• Rail passenger contract up for renewal in 2014
Keith Brown said the £250,000 experiment, on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line, may not provide coverage through its five tunnels, while just four trains have been fitted with wifi equipment.
A further potential problem could be caused by passengers – who will not be charged during the trial – slowing down connection speeds for fellow travellers by trying to download videos.
This practice has been banned on wifi provided by cross-Border operators East Coast and Virgin Trains.
The three-month trial, which began on Monday, was officially launched by Mr Brown yesterday as a potential first step to extending the service across Scotland.
The move comes two years after ScotRail completed a feasibility study for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency as an agreed part of its three-year franchise extension.
However, the agency consultation on the next ScotRail franchise, from 2014, said it was “disappointing” that wifi was not provided on any ScotRail trains since it had been available elsewhere on the UK rail network since 2004.
Ministers believe wifi will encourage more people to travel by train and improve passenger satisfaction.
Two wifi systems will be tested in the trial, Nomad Digital – used by Virgin Trains – and Icomera.
They combine mobile signals from all available networks along the line and route it through the train’s carriages. Officials said web pages should load faster and e-mails be sent more quickly, with fewer signal gaps - known as “not spots”.
Mr Brown said: “We are working towards bringing the internet to every corner of Scotland, including ensuring people can get online even when they’re on the move, be that commuting to and from work or travelling socially.”
However, he said it had yet to be established how well the technology would work, which could affect whether passengers would be charged for using it in the future.
He said: “There may well be points where it does not work.”
The minister suggested if other, more expensive technology had to be used instead, wifi was less likely to be free.
East Coast charges £4.95 for one hour or £9.95 for 24 hours, while Virgin’s charges start at £4 for one hour.
IOfficials have advised: “Downloading large files or watching TV or video may reduce the overall connection available to other passengers.”
Passenger watchdogs called for the service to be extended but any charges to be kept down.
Passenger Focus manager Robert Samson said: “At long last a trial is taking place. We hope it proves to be successful and wifi is rolled out to other routes.
“This will have a high cost, but to make the service attractive it should be free or a very reasonable charge, since passengers are already paying more than inflation for their tickets.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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