Signal failure: Free wi-fi on trains faces being scrapped to save money as the Department for Transport says operators need to ‘justify the business case for it’
- Most railway operators currently offer a free wi-fi connection on trains
After delays and cancellations, patchy internet signal on trains is often one of the biggest gripes for train passengers.
But a government pledge to ensure availability of fast, free wi-fi is set for the buffers to cut costs.
Most operators currently offer a free wi-fi connection – albeit not always a very reliable one – as standard, as part of their franchise requirements.
However, the Department for Transport has now decided wi-fi is low priority for travellers and that operators need to ‘justify the business case for it’.
Campaigners blasted the ‘ridiculous’ move which would make rail ‘less attractive’ at a time when the sector is trying to attract passengers after being badly hit following Covid and with the rise of working from home.
The change was revealed by transport campaigner and broadcaster Christian Wolmar, on his Calling All Stations podcast.
Calling the cut a ‘ridiculous measure’, he said: ‘The DfT actually wants to reduce the quality of the train service by saying to passengers: sorry, you can’t access wi-fi.
‘It’s all about saving money. But we’re trying to attract commuters back on to the railway, and people like to get on their phone or laptops.
‘They’re going backwards. My view is that wi-fi is as essential as toilets now – people expect to be connected.’
Bruce Williamson, from campaign group Railfuture, told The Guardian: ‘One of the great things about travelling by train is that you can work or watch a video or listen to a podcast – and wi-fi is pretty essential for that.
‘We should be encouraging passengers to get back on the trains and this is a good example of a move that is going to make rail less attractive.’
In 2015, the coalition government announced £50m to provide fast, cheap internet on trains. The following year, promises were downgraded to a minimum 1 megabit per second per passenger, meaning things like video and even large email attachments could not be downloaded.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: ‘Our railways are currently not financially sustainable, and it is unfair to continue asking taxpayers to foot the bill, which is why reform of all aspects of the railways is essential.’
The DfT said on-train wi-fi was shown as a ‘low priority’ in a survey of 15,000 passengers, compared with value for money, reliability and security, that passengers often use their own mobile data in preference, and that equipment on some trains is becoming dated.