Amtrak explores trackside network to upgrade Acela's Wi-Fi service

Wi-Fi's not always available on trains during rush hour

Amtrak is exploring ways it can upgrade the on-board Wi-Fi service on its Acela trains between Washington and Boston, which is notoriously poor for passengers, especially during rush-hour travel.

Amtrak said in a statement it is interested in building a dedicated wireless network along the tracks for a high-capacity network that would stretch the entire 457 miles of the Northeast Corridor route.

Amtrak is taking bids for the project, which would increase the total available bandwidth per train from 10 Mbps to a minimum of 25 Mbps. The bids would be only for a proof-of-concept to see whether it is technically and financially feasible to build the network.

"We know that our customers want a consistently reliable and fast on-board Wi-Fi experience -- something we cannot guarantee today on our busiest trains when hundreds of customers want to go online at the same time," Amtrak chief marketing and sales officer Matt Hardison said.

For years, Amtrak has promoted its faster and more modern Acela trains along the route, which can bring passengers from either Boston or Washington to Penn Station in New York City in under four hours, faster than other trains.

Even so, Wi-Fi service on Amtrak trains along the route is sometimes so poor that users can't log on, especially during rush hours, when trains are filled with business travelers, some logging on with multiple devices. Amtrak restricts Wi-Fi users from making large file downloads and streaming media to their laptops, tablets and phones, but that solution hasn't helped.

Amtrak posted a procurement document indicating that contractor interest in the bid must be filed by June 12, with a site visit on June 18.

This article, Amtrak explores trackside network to upgrade Acela Wi-Fi service, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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