Campaign for better connectivity on trains

Steam Engine at York Station 1

If you are reading this, you probably know that I spend a lot of time on trains. This is because I travel around a lot in my job, and I live close to a train station, so it makes sense. Usually I can work on the train, and I much prefer to do that than spend dead time sat behind the wheel of a car.

But, I have been getting increasingly frustrated recently about lack of connectivity on trains. I have had a 3G dongle for about three years now, and it seems to me that I am getting more signal problems than ever before. This is exacerbated on Cross Country Voyager trains which have specially re-inforced windows, which are very safe in a crash but terrible at letting mobile signals through. Virgin had the same issue on its Pendolino trains, which I occasionally use between Manchester and London, but they have recently fitted internal signal boosters, which I have found to be excellent in maintaining a signal. I took part in a conference call for the entire journey from Manchester to London a few months ago, and only lost the signal twice, both times when the train was in a tunnel. Virgin have also introduced wifi, but you have to pay for it, a move I am not in favour of. On a Virgin train I prefer to use my dongle picking up the enhanced 3G signal.


I also use National Express East Coast trains between Leeds and London a lot, and they have had free wifi for some time. As well as the anomoly of their use of a Swedish ISP, so Google search results are returned with the offer of a Swedish translation, sometimes the connectivity to the outside world can be non-existent for most of the journey, which makes it just as frustrating as using the dongle.

I remember being told once that the mobile phone companies made it a priority to ensure good coverage on motorways when they were building their networks because, in the early days, car phones were the most prevalent cellular device. What I want to know then is, why hasn’t thinking moved on, and why are not train lines a priority these days? I think that a reliable Internet connection would be a powerful tool in persuading more people to give up their cars and use the train as a mobile office. Surely that would increase revenue for the train companies, make people more productive because they would be working in a train rather than sat at the wheel, and achieve all sorts of environmental benefits.


So; I am starting a three-pronged campaign for:

  • mobile phone companies to make train lines a priority for improved 3G coverage
  • train companies to offer free wifi on board; and
  • those train companies who already offer free wifi to improve its performance and coverage
  • All this would make my life easier; but, more importantly, it would be good for the environment and the economy.

    Please add your comment below to join the campaign

    13 thoughts on “Campaign for better connectivity on trains

    1. I support your campaign, simply because most train tracks run through rural areas so it would mean rural people could pick up the signal better too! The service is declining in the same way that adsl broadband is, it is because too many are using it, and contention is throttling everyone. Poor old digitalbritain. Good luck with your work!

    2. I support your campaign. As a regular traveller from Liverpool – London and other places (Brighton last week), and a 3G dongle owner who has been constantly frustrated since purchasing it I have been hoping that someone (thank you!) would lobby for an improvement. With a sufficient signal, I can get more work done on the train than in the office!

      Oh, and if wifi was free that would also be a bonus.

    3. NXEC wifi was just fine when it was only free for 1st class passengers. It went downhill immediately they opened it up to all.

      I don’t know what level of usage they planned the service for (or rather, what GNER did) but it clearly isn’t enough any more. I suspect that increasing capacity on the backhaul (which is effectively what we’re talking about here) isn’t trivial from a train.

      East Midlands Trains ‘Meridian’ services use very similar vehicles to the XC Voyagers, and suffer exactly the same problem with 3G signals.

      Good luck with the campaign!

      • I use East Coast wifi frequently and agree the service is now so poor as to be almost unusable (brings back not so fond memories of 9600bps modem connections). In fact sitting on a train right now writing this as I wait for my email to download…..

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    5. Oh I whole heartedly agree.

      In this day and age, when I’m trying to get some work done on the train whether it be a conference call or trying to download/send e-mails. It’s frustrating when travelling during business hours to get to meetings, that for a fair chunk of the day I’m simply out of contact.

      I’m an on-line connected person. Laptop, Blackberry, iPhone.

      Digital Britain all the way!

      Just a same our infrastructure can’t keep up 😦

      The technology is there – it’s a pity the will and desire from the mobile operators and train companies isn’t.

      Copper Cable, budget on a shoestring Britain is sliding down the league table regulating the ‘crap-end’ of the digital spectrum. One can only dream of 50MB broadband, let alone 100MB or dare I say 200MB? I’ll go back to my 5MB broadband now at home, and when on the train… I can dream of just even receiving a signal let alone being able to down load a simple e-mail whilst on the move. *sighs*

    6. I wholeheartedly agree. There appears to be no consistency even within individual train companies.

      On one of the busiest commuter routes in Scotland (Glasgow-Edinburgh) even ‘normal’ mobile calls get lost in about 10 places.

      And the other day I was incensed to get on a ‘free-wifi’ RailAir coach between Reading Station & Heathrow only to find it didn’t have wifi at all!!
      Lucky I had a dongle….

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    9. Perhaps while you’re campaigning, you could consider campaigning for separate carriages for people who want to work on the train. The other commuters who don’t use the train as a mobile office, but simply as a means to get to work, are easily disturbed. We ought to have quiet carriages for them, where no mobile devices are allowed.

    10. I agree, except that I am on First Great Western train passing through Dawlish, no mean feat after recent weather events. The carriage is old rolling stock and apart from a couple of places and in tunnels I have had a good wireless signal from Paddington & I know this will continue to St Austell in Cornwall.

      During the recent weather unpleasantness, I travelled on a CrossCountry Voyager and had no signal where there was always a good signal on FGW.

      It is clearly the rolling stock but 4 years after the last post, still no boosters appear to be working on XC.

      Any News

      David HOLMAN

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