WiFi on longer routes

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All you can think is that this is 2024. Airplanes have WiFi. Every person younger than , say, 40, is on line all the time. The strategic future user projection seems to be led by 75 yr.olds.
I definitely am, but I’m also aware of the realities of getting the internet to vehicles. Brightline promises seamless wifi from station to station, but on the train the bandwidth isn’t great and it drops out when there’s no great view of the sky (supposedly it’s Starlink?), and it blocks my work VPN in the station so I end up tethering. Similarly, Virgin Voyages has free wifi but it was constantly oversubscribed and had weird issues with content blocking (had to VPN through my house to get the Apple News crossword). I tend to lean towards “no wifi is better than bad wifi,” and for a lot of people I talk to, being in a vehicle is a great time to unplug.
 
I read the article and was dismayed by the suggestion of spending $30M to "start testing creative solutions".
To me thats bureaucrat speak for lets give consultants a bunch of money to consult and not solve anything.
So instead, let's look at fixing the problem instead of studying it to death.
We already have Starlink providing service worldwide, so let's take that 30M and use it!
Since each Startlink business antenna can support 200 users and average users per railcar is 32, there is certainly enough room (28.5M riders / 2412 railcars / 365 days)
Instead of blowing 30M on "studying" the problem, you could try to solve it and have 1 months of service paid for.
2142 railcars * $2,500 for Flat High Performance Starlink Antennas * 2 for redundancy = $25M
Monthly service costs: Unlimited Mobile Global Data Inland $5,000 ($5,000 per unit * 2412 * 2) = $24M
Ongoing monthly cost $24M
I bet Elon would give a group discount.
That's 10 bucks per rider. probably 3 bucks if you charged for the service in major segments like 3 bucks from CHI to DEN, 3 bucks from DEN to SF.
Oh wait since Amtrak has to go to congress to fund the "study", they will probably have to go to congress to fund the roll out and implementation, so no rider charges.
And let's face it, this probably will not be needed on the NE corridor, so the monthly data costs would be much less I believe.
I know- this all makes too much sense.
Is it perfect? No
Will it work everywhere all of the time? No, even cell phones don't.
Is it better to spend 30M Doing something to solve the the problem instead of looking at the problem? IMHO Yes.
Is bad WIFI better than no WIFI? Yes, again IMHO.
Is it something that can be built upon and improved over time? Yes
Can that be said about spending the money "testing creative solutions", Yes I'm sure at the end the suggestion would be to spend more $$$ to study the problem some more.
OK end of rant :)
 
I fully agree that anyone under 66 should have wifi 24/7 (being 67 myself). But it will end one of my favorite California Zephyr traditions.

The scenery west of Denver is spectacular, but let's face it, east of Denver it can get a little monotonous, unless you really like looking at corn. As I sit in the SSL, I observe the following pattern:

1) Corn No cell signal of any kind.
2) Corn with one semi-modern house occupied by someone that doesn't like town folk. Phone says "O", which is pretty much useless.
3) Farm Equipment Store Phone says "E", which might make a call or a text (no pictures).
4) Fast food restaurants Phone says "3G" which sorta works.
5) Old houses and old bars Phone says "LTE" and works really well. Send documents quickly.
6) Station and grain silos Phone tries to connect to a half dozen wifis, all with names like CORNCO.
Same exact pattern in reverse as you leave town, ending with
1) Corn No cell signal of any kind.

Repeat every 20 miles/minutes.

I suspect by now most of the "O", "E" and "3G" towers have been discontinued, but there is still a lot of 1) Corn No Signal
 
I'm not advocating for around the clock internet per se, it's just the money spent on "studies" that bothers me.
Near me there has been talk of extending a highway due to population growth.
Here's how that has gone:
1970-1990 - 2 envirnonmental studies discontinued due to "roadway priorities"
1998-2001 Improvement studiy halted due to budget concerns
2006 - Design picked out, further studies stalled due to lack of funding.
2009 - referendum passed with 75% yes vote
2010 - extension identified as part of 2040 plan
2011 - 126M designated for studies
2013 - finance & land committees formed to formulate recommendations whether project should be pursued.
2015 - environmental impact study planned
2017 - 25M impact study awarded
2018 - project removed from priority list
2019 - environmental impact study halted, ending consideration for highway extension
So now 54 years after initial consideration, millions spent on studies, untold man hours wasted along the way, and now?
Nothing........
So I am firm in the belief of less study-ing, more do-ing.
Even if it is wrong, or a mistake, lessons can be learned by doing, as the above example shows, nothing is accomplished by just studying something!
 
In Europe and Asia they apparently use a few GSM-R channels from the GSM-R that is installed for use in rail operations along the tracks. There are advantages in using standards that can cross work between providing internet service to customers and providing communications needed for operations. I am not sure what standards for radio communications are used here. There appears to be a mix of satellite links and some other assorted stuff. i-ETMS definitely uses terrestrial radio, which is what caused the huge kerfuffle about finding enough spectrum when those towers were being installed, in addition to of course the business about disturbing native lands and what not. Unfortunately those are not cross usable to provide internet service to anyone.
Most trains in Europe rely on the 4G mobile network along the tracks to provide WiFi, you can't use GSM-R to provide high-speed internet access.
In France, Orange provides the 4G network to SNCF Voyageurs, they have thousands of antennas along the tracks.
 
Hi all,

Wondering how the WIFI is on the Empire Builder as I'm thinking of taking it cross country and want to be able to work along the journey.

Please advise.

Thanks!
Stephanie
 
Also keep in mind that a wi-fi system must itself connect to the broader internet either via cellphone towers or satellite. If the train is passing through an area with no local cellphone coverage then even if you have a wi-fi network it isn't going to get you internet connectivity. This is quite common on the western routes, less so in the east. Of course, satellite connectivity solves this issue, but it is a more expensive and technologically complex solution that Amtrak has yet to adopt.
Pre-COVID there was usually wi-fi offered on the Southwest Chief, but it was only as good as the Verizon network that it connected to. For most people it didn't offer any real advantages over using your own phone as a hotspot. And, passengers who were conditioned to expect 100% uptime when connected to wi-fi complained about the dead zones. So, it was no surprise when Amtrak stopped offering wi-fi.
 
Also keep in mind that a wi-fi system must itself connect to the broader internet either via cellphone towers or satellite. If the train is passing through an area with no local cellphone coverage then even if you have a wi-fi network it isn't going to get you internet connectivity. This is quite common on the western routes, less so in the east. Of course, satellite connectivity solves this issue, but it is a more expensive and technologically complex solution that Amtrak has yet to adopt.
Pre-COVID there was usually wi-fi offered on the Southwest Chief, but it was only as good as the Verizon network that it connected to. For most people it didn't offer any real advantages over using your own phone as a hotspot. And, passengers who were conditioned to expect 100% uptime when connected to wi-fi complained about the dead zones. So, it was no surprise when Amtrak stopped offering wi-fi.
Same thing applied on the Starlight when the Pacific Parlour Car was on it and had wifi. There were huge dead zones around Point Conception/Vandenberg AFB and over Willamette Pass.

Some eastern LDs have it. I know for a fact the Lake Shore Limited does. It sucks pretty badly and a cell data connection is generally a lot more reliable and faster.
 
You may get occasional snatches of wi-fi when at a station or slowly passing through a very populated area. But do not depend on it.

But cell service is available over a good portion of the route. If your phone is set up with roaming data service, you will be able to keep your email / text updated, catch up on the latest news, etc. But you can't depend upon it to set up a business zoom meeting at a specific time.
 
I took the EB in Jan/Feb of this year, and the situation remains the same: wi-fi is not provided.

I used my cellphone data to check email and post a few photos to social media. West of Spokane, and east of Browning MT, cell service is pretty reliably present. Between those two cities, you will only have cell service near major towns (Sandpoint, Libby, Whitefish, Havre, etc.). At some stops in the mountains, cell service only lasts a couple of minutes before you are once again out of range.
 
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Wifi is primarily used for business travel when traveling. The majority of passengers on LD trains isn’t business travel.
Where I live in-person business travel has shrunk considerably and 90% of my en route WiFi use is for personal reasons.

For most people it didn't offer any real advantages over using your own phone as a hotspot.
It might have been better if paired to an amplified repeater with an external antenna instead of just taping a hot spot to wall inside of a rolling Faraday box.
 
One of the over-arching values of corridors --say rail corridors -- is that they support linear connections, like telegraph, fiber and similar extensive services. It may be that many of the LD routes already have cable lines along the route. Is there a way to make use of existing fiber lines to support rail wi-fi connections? Is there an inventory of what is there that could be used to identify nodes where connections can be developed?
 
One of the over-arching values of corridors --say rail corridors -- is that they support linear connections, like telegraph, fiber and similar extensive services. It may be that many of the LD routes already have cable lines along the route. Is there a way to make use of existing fiber lines to support rail wi-fi connections? Is there an inventory of what is there that could be used to identify nodes where connections can be developed?
It's certainly possible, but doing it for just a twice a day Amtrak train would be cost prohibitive. Most of the remote coverage is for major highways which gets constant use. I've been on the Sunset in west Texas where there are also long gaps in service.

Satellite's problem is maintaining a satellite lock from a moving train. There's issues with trees, cuts, and tunnels blocking a clear view of the sky, plus keeping the lock from a moving vehicle. Aircraft have a much easier time due to the clear view and smoother ride. They do have trouble maintaining a lock in turbulence.
 
It may seem a necessity for many, but not for most on long distance routes.

In today's high tech world, you can download entertainment ahead of time and you can usually be connected just enough to keep on touch. Granted, in an urgent situation while stuck in a dead zone it is frustrating.

What did we do before the Internet?

I think we survived. Then again, most alive today don't remember that time. It's all perspective, I guess.
 
One of the over-arching values of corridors --say rail corridors -- is that they support linear connections, like telegraph, fiber and similar extensive services. It may be that many of the LD routes already have cable lines along the route. Is there a way to make use of existing fiber lines to support rail wi-fi connections? Is there an inventory of what is there that could be used to identify nodes where connections can be developed?
Ha, ha, As I was riding through Montana last winter, in the remote mountains with no service, I noted the fiber line buried next to the tracks. It went most all the way. Such a line is going in right past my driveway in a similarly remote part of eastern Oregon, but I called and they have no plans to provide local service, even to people who live adjacent to the lines 24/7/365. So I'm guessing it's not happening.

In today's high tech world, you can download entertainment ahead of time and you can usually be connected just enough to keep on touch. Granted, in an urgent situation while stuck in a dead zone it is frustrating.

What did we do before the Internet?

I think we survived. Then again, most alive today don't remember that time. It's all perspective, I guess.

I like to be online a couple times a day, to check emails, messages, and post a few trip photos as it happens. For this, intermittent service is quite adequate and I can wait a few hours. In between, I knit, read (pre-loaded library books), snooze, and watch the scenery roll by.
 
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