Rail passengers to get free on-board Wi-Fi

Future east-coast mainline operator National Express has promised free on-board Wi-Fi for standard-class passengers

Rail passengers on the London to Scotland east-coast mainline will get free Wi-Fi as part of National Express' £1.4bn winning bid to run the franchise.

National Express will take over the rail route from GNER in mid-December this year after beating off competition for the franchise from Arriva, FirstGroup, Stagecoach and Virgin.

GNER completed the £3.2m installation of Wi-Fi broadband connectivity on all 41 of its east-coast trains last year and, although the service is free for first-class passengers, those in standard have to pay either £2.95 per half hour or £9.95 for a full day's use.

But, in addition to faster journey times, National Express has also promised to extend free Wi-Fi to passengers in standard class as part of its seven-year contract.

The on-board Wi-Fi uses a combination of a satellite link and mobile 3G/GPRS networks to maintain 100 percent connectivity, even when going through tunnels. A server from Swedish company Icomera on the train provides a 2MB satellite downlink, which is combined with the mobile connectivity.

Wireless access points are then fitted at the end of each carriage on a train, which connect to the main on-board satellite server and can support around 40 simultaneous users in each carriage at one time.

National Express said it will also build a simpler "one-stop shop" website to highlight the cheapest tickets available, introduce smartcards by 2010, provide real-time travel updates to mobile phones and allow passengers to print tickets at home or use "m-tickets" through their mobile phones.