An Open Letter to the Managing Director of Cross Country Trains

Dear Mr. Cooper

Internet Connectivity and Mobile Phone Signals on Voyager Trains

Cross Country Voyager Train

A Cross Country Voyager Train - Image courtesy John Grey Turner http://www.flickr.com/photos/johngreyturner/

I am writing to you to ask if you can please do something about Internet connectivity and mobile phone signals on your Voyager Trains. I write following two particularly frustrating journeys; from Leeds to Bristol Temple Meads on 25th January, and Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester on 26th January, when neither of the devices I normally carry with me for Internet connectivity on the move, a Vodafone dongle and a Mifi mobile wifi unit on the Three network, could get anything more than fleeting signals. I am a regular user of Cross Country trains, most frequently between Leeds / Wakefield and my office in Sheffield, but also on longer journeys too.

I travel a lot in my job, and, partly because I live within walking distance of Huddersfield station, partly because I believe in keeping driving to a minimum in the interests of saving the planet, but mainly because I can work on the move rather than treating travel as “dead time”, I nearly always travel by train. I firmly believe that efforts need to be made to attract more people out of their cars and on to the train, and that making the travel experience more like a mobile office could be a key factor in this.

I travel regularly on East Coast Trains between Leeds and London, and find the free wifi offered on those services to be a great help, even though actual connectivity to the Internet can be patchy. I also note Virgin Trains’ introduction of wifi on its West Coast services, although I believe that the fact that there is a charge for this is a powerful disincentive for most people. Personally, I think free wifi on trains has to be the way forward and is the main way to create the mobile office on rails.

The Cross Country Voyagers are the trains I have the most problems with connectivity on. And I know it is the Voyagers which are the issue, because there are no such problems when using your refurbished HSTs on my usual route between Leeds and Sheffield. Now, I realise that Voyagers are designed to be very safe trains, and, I of course, welcome that, but it is evident that, with safety also comes the inability of mobile phone signals to penetrate into the carriage. Virgin had the same issue on its West Coast Pendolinos and has addressed this by placing signal boosters in the carriages. I now find that I often get an near unbroken 3G signal when traveling from Manchester to London on Virgin services, which means I have an alternative to using the (paid for) wifi.

So, my request to you is, can you please consider introducing signal boosters into Voyager carriages. Free wifi would be great, and if you would consider it, that would be an extra incentive to the mobile office worker. But, if wifi is a step too far at this stage, please look at 3G signal boosters similar to those adopted by Virgin, I am convinced that this would be an important tool in driving up business use of your services and would pay for itself over not too long a period.

No signal on Mifi on Voyager Train

No signal on Mifi on Voyager Train

I know there are lots of people who feel the same as me, as is evidenced by replies to my blog post on the issue (https://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2009/11/05/campaign-for-better-connectivity-on-trains/) by the many comments of people who use the #uktrain hashtag on Twitter (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23uktrain) and other people I come across in my travels. In the modern age, people need to stay connected to their networks to operate efficiently, and it is immensely frustrating to lose this connectivity for long periods while traveling on your train services.

I would be grateful for a reply indicating whether this is something you are prepared to look into.

With best regards

21 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Managing Director of Cross Country Trains

    • As I travelled over the past few days on virgin and there other company cross country and didn’t get a signal I would say they haven’t fixed the problem. My daughter was involved in a car crash and I couldn’t get updates for 3 hours, not good, they need to address the problem people will still pay for their wifi for uninterrupted signal if that’s the reasoning for the blocking.

      • Hi. There is now wifi on Cross Country trains, but you have to pay for it, although it is cheaper than most train offerings. This doesn’t change the issue with phone signals penetrating carriages. You can usually get a signal in the area by the toilets between carriages. Cross Country is actually owned by Arriva, not Virgin, although it WAS Virgin who bought the trains and carriages as they previously owned the franchise.

  1. Thanks for this John. I often travel betwen Manchester and Birmingham (mainly) and have given up trying to ‘work’ on the cross country service. As much as I’d like to keep on top of my phone/Internet commitments (which like you are fundemental aspects of my working life) I can’t. Instead, rather than having down time,

    I have to use the time to ‘read’ documents and papers which ideally would be read at at time more convenient to me. I wish your open letter succes

    David

  2. I’ve posted on this.

    http://railwayeye.blogspot.com/2010/01/golden-aerial-awards-nominations.html

    There are some good railway companies when it comes to mobile working and some real stinkers!

    You may be interested to know that Arriva Cross Country undertook to make:

    “Wi-Fi available to all Voyager and HST passengers, free in First Class” within two years of the franchise starting.

    See: http://www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk/AboutCrossCountry/PressAndMedia/PressReleaseLaunch.aspx

    XC celebrated it’s second birthday as the franchise incumbent on the 11th November 2009…

    So they appear to have broken a franchise promise.

    Have you copied your open letter to Lord Adonis?

    TFC

    • Thanks for that. Let’s hope we can get something about this.

      Something else I can add to this is that I also have a pocket DAB digital radio which I mainly use for listening to cricket commentaries on the move. I find that both XC Voyagers and Virgin Pendolinos completely block out the DAB signal, it is even worse than the mobile signal

  3. Well, this is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

  4. Pingback: Avoid using XC Trains « XC Trains Blog

  5. Completely agree. As a business traveller it’s a major issue. (I sit here now staring at a dead Vodafone dongle).

  6. I agree too! Current situation (I travel from Leeds to Bristol) is appalling and a breach of Cross Country’s franchise contract.

  7. Totally agree, I’ve had an O2 mobile broadband dongle for 2 years and it doesn’t get any signal between Leamington Spa and Oxford, although I’m not sure it’s entirely XC’s faulty.

    However, I was greeted with a surprise this morning. Getting onto the train at Leamington Spa I spied a number of Free WiFi posters dotted through the cabin. Needless to say I signed in straight away. Although the speed isn’t the strongest it’s great to have the opportunity to work properly on the train!

    • Thanks for this Anthony.

      Yes, my attention was drawn to the free wifi experiment last week. This is a major step in the right direction from Cross Country, let’s hope they keep it up and roll it out. But, I suppose that needs people to use it. My working patterns have changed so I’ve spent very little time on Cross Country services in the past few months, but I still think it is important to tackle the issue of connectivity on their services. So, please people, get on the Cross Country free wifi and use it!

  8. Interesting that this is still rumbling on five (?) years after winning the franchise and three years after being fined for failing to keep their promise that wifi would be in place. If it isn’t bad enough that it takes 2 hours to get between Leeds and Birmingham (the same time journey on East Coast gets you all the way to London, approx twice as far), you have to spend it unable to connect to the internet either by wifi or my mobile signal (which happens to be with Three). And with extortionate fares that are considerably more than East Coast (£106 advance return between Leeds and Dudley, six weeks before travel. £70 first class advance return Leeds to London six weeks before travel), why are Arriva getting away this? I’ll get off my soapbox. Adrian

  9. I’m travelling on the cross country train from Bristol to Manchester today and I have been struck by the complete lack of mobile internet on the whole journey apart from when we’re in stations. I thought I’d travel with cross country today instead of my usual route because train very busy and I wish I hadn’t bothered. The fact that they charge for Wi-Fi makes me think they actively want to block the mobile internet signal to further line their own pockets. I will never travel cross country trains for the rest of my life because of this insidious policy.

    • Cross Country’s Voyager trains have metallised windows which block mobile signals. This has always been the case, before wifi was introduced. When Virgin owned them (before the change of franchise in 2007) they fitted some with signal boosters for Orange. I think some of these are still working, so if you are on Orange (or possibly EE) you can get an OK signal on some CC Voyagers.

  10. i was on a voyager back from exeter to taunton and 3g was rubbish on the voyager and there was no way i was going to faff about signing up to wifi for a 25 minute trip – the hst125 on the outward trip had fine 3g/4g the almost the whole trip as it runs next to the m5 with loads of 3g masts. it those silly metalic windows on the voyager to try and force people to pay for wifi out of desparation!

  11. Sat on a voyager XC train now just outside of York…. It’s been scrimping in and out for 3G…. I’m with three.
    I’m all for safety but I can’t do any work on my way back from another site…..

    I travel to Glasgow frequently and instead of getting the direct drain to central, I prefer to get the Virgin East Coast train and switch to Scot Rail at Edinburgh Waverley just to ensure I have connectivity….. And I’m not buying that wifi because it’s awful!

    Typical…. Try to post complaint about awful signal and it goes again. ARGH!!!

  12. I thought I was going mad on my new commute to Oxford (from Reading) and my inability to get a signal on the Cross Country Voyagers. Now I know it’s not just me! How annoying

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