Amtrak Wi-Fi (WiFi) Availability

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Amtrak Wi-Fi (WiFi) Availability

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:08 pm

At first, i thought I would merely add this thought to Ms. Iowa Gal's inquiry, but I thought twice lest that pull the discussion off-topic.

I can't help but note how important 24/7 access to the internet appears to be to some, as on so many inquiries from infrequent and first time Amtrak travelers the inquiry "is wi-fi available?" made. This is not simply Iowa Gal's inquiry, I've seen it on occasions too numerous to count here and other sites. I have also seen inquiries and consternation on-board; I can't forget how aboard Auto Train this past February, I was sitting at a table in the Lounge for the pre-departure wine tasting and this Mother and teen age daughter sit down on the opposite side. The girl was "at the wailing wall' when she learned that the wi-fi was only good at Lorton and not en-route; she hustles off to their room. The Mother tells me "thank goodness you said something; she has school assignments to prepare and she must have on-line in order to get them done".

To me it sounds as if they were "expecting' that wi-fi would be available.

Personally, I could care less; to be "a day or two" without being on-line is "no biggie'. Most any hotel at which I have occasion to stay during the 21 or so nights a year I'm out of town (whoops, the B&B near School where I stayed for 50th Reunion earlier this month did not have it ) has a Business Center or Lobby computer; sometimes you have to pay, sometimes not. But I should be prepared to accept that those younger than my age 70+ demographic, it "is a biggie' and is just as expected on-board as is working HVAC and toilet facilities.

Needless to say, the only computer I own is this Dell desktop from which i now write; so I have to ask in all sincerity, is this "need" for wi-fi as prevalent through any societal demographic or is it mostly within a young, computer savvy demographic that frequent discussion boards such as here?

I of course note that Amtrak is spending "heap big wampum" to add wi-fi to both Amfleet and Acela cars. It almost seems to me that Amtrak was slow to "wake up and smell the other guy's coffee brewing' and that if they don't get their own kettle on the fire, they will lose many a potential rider.

Thoughts, discussion, anyone?
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby FatNoah » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:36 pm

(Some background...I'm a mid-30's guy who is the lead architect/developer/manager for a small software company. I'm a heavy user of the Internet for work, recreation, and general information retrieval.)

There are really two parallel issues here. The first issue is that of general "connectivity" and the second is the availability of a specific mode (WiFi) of connectivity. For most people, the real issue is that of general Internet access.

For me, lack of Internet access is very disruptive. My job generally requires that I'm available on weekends and vacations in case of emergency or other issues. I can check my email at my leisure and can respond to the few issues that may come up in a day all at once rather than having to deal with several telephone calls over a day. Email and social media helps me keep tabs on friends who with new houses, young kids of their own,and other obligations don't have time to make monthly newsletters, hold weekly phone conversations, and the like. It's easy to snap a pic of the kids at the beach and share with those that are interested. The Internet is also a great source of information (I don't use 411 or the yellow pages), especially when travelling. I consider Internet access a must anytime I'm away from home.

As for "how" I access the Internet, my smartphone does a capable job and is fine for 90% of what I use the Internet for. Tether to a lap top and I'm good to go. Of course, in places where cell phone signals are not available or when Verizon stop offering unlimited data, other means of accessing the Internet, such as WiFi are required.

All that said, I'm not sure how necessary it is for Amtrak to offer WiFi on LD trains. I see the value for the NEC and other corridors heavily patronized by commuters and business travelers and how lack of access can lose customers. While some customers might be lost for lack of WiFi on LD trains, I can't imagine that the number is high enough to justify the expense of adding and maintaining WiFi on LD trains, especially with smartphones on the rise and able to cover so many needs already.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby afiggatt » Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:59 pm

Gilbert B Norman wrote:Needless to say, the only computer I own is this Dell desktop from which i now write; so I have to ask in all sincerity, is this "need" for wi-fi as prevalent through any societal demographic or is it mostly within a young, computer savvy demographic that frequent discussion boards such as here?

I of course note that Amtrak is spending "heap big wampum" to add wi-fi to both Amfleet and Acela cars. It almost seems to me that Amtrak was slow to "wake up and smell the other guy's coffee brewing' and that if they don't get their own kettle on the fire, they will lose many a potential rider.

Thoughts, discussion, anyone?

Not just the young folk. I would add anyone who grew up in the PC and computer age and has laptops, tablet computers, smartphones and the like. Got to access the cloud!

It is has become rather simple from a business perspective: Amtrak has to add WiFi in order to compete or else be seen as way behind the times. With the Megabuses and Boltbuses on one front and with the airlines on the other. (The airlines won't have free WiFi, but then again, they would charge extra for enough oxygen to keep people awake if they could get away with it). With retail chains like McDonalds and Starbucks offering free WiFi, people are coming to expect WiFi access where ever they go, at least when they are in sight of civilization.

As for spending heap big wampum, looking at the FY11 and FY12 budget plans, the cost of the WiFi is not that big; at least, not from my viewpoint.
For FY11, the budget for WiFi System Wide for the Regionals and California cars was/is $7.2 million. There is $2.6 million for Media Delivery on Trains to enable delivery of onboard media (movies, music, games) for a new revenue stream and information for on board announcement systems.
For FY12, the budget for WiFi system wide is $13.5 million. This is to complete installation on the other corridor and the long distance fleets. Another $4.5 million for Media Delivery on Trains. They state that WiFi will contribute an incremental 2% in ticket revenue for Acela and Amfleet 1 services. Probably a over conservative number in my opinion, but one that is hard to prove one way or the other to that level of detail even with market surveys.

By way of comparison, the Point of Sale system to automate and track food and beverage operations throughout Amtrak is budgeted at $7.9M in the FY12 budget plan.
Last edited by afiggatt on Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby Greg Moore » Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:46 pm

Wi-Fi is a force multiplier for business folks.

Basically it can allow a business person to travel AND get work done at the same time. This can be very useful.

For non-business folks, it really has become a part of their lives. Consider where you might go to the corner pub to catch up with friends, now you do it on-line, any time, and all the time. And consider many friends may be people you've never physically met, nor are likely to meet, it makes sense to want access to Wi-Fi.

That said, yeah, for the most part, Internet Access is becoming as required as access to clean water, electricity, etc. 150 years ago, a passenger car that could take you some distance might have been sufficient. Then the standards went up, heat, then AC, etc became "standard".
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby gprimr1 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:21 pm

I am not the type who constantly tweets locations and such, but when it comes to Amtrak, internet is the best force (that I can control) to fight delays. A delay with Wi-Fi can go by pretty quick.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby 161pw165 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 8:56 pm

As an IT consultant, requiring the availability of wi-fi en route or in an establishment simply isn't an option. A smartphone w/ data plan AND an air-card for my laptop are must haves. BTW - neither work on airplanes, and I refuse to pay for the carrier's wi-fi as I'm never in the air for more than 4 hours even if going cross-country. That said, if I'm thinking of LD rail, it sure ain't going to be business related, and the above equipment will work on board anyway. Similar situation on corridor routes; though I can see where there would be a more compelling case to be made for wi-fi there.

When on a train, I guess what I'm saying is: for a professional, rely on non-wi-fi technology; for the younger-generation, try verbal communication via cell phone instead of texting and get a good book for entertainment. Kinda lame, but whatever......
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby Tadman » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:05 pm

WiFi on LD is kind of pointless. If you have to stay connected, you're likely not riding 3 days across country on the Builder. That said, WiFi on a mid-range or corridor train is a great idea and a good way to compete against other modes of transport. Getting work done on Acela or Hiawatha while on the cloud is a super idea.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby buddah » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:32 pm

Mr Norman may I chime in on this subject. WIFI for the 21st century has been and will be a driving force in almost all aspects of life. To be "wired in" via Ethernet or WIFI will simply be the norm. I do understand your viewpoint as only 1 desktop resides in your dwelling, However given your location am I correct in assuming your probably not on dial up connection? I'd assume you have some type of broadband connection ( ATT DSL/UVERS, Comcast, W.O.W ,ETC.) albeit your hardwired via Ethernet cable directly from your modem with no need for a wifi enabled router, would that be an accurate foresight of your network? IF so may I point out you have 24/7 access, however as you stated you don't generally need it.

For those of us as trying to keep up with this tech savvy over 56kbps environment that has been bestowed upon us in the last decade+ we yearn for the power of a fast reliable connection at our finger tips. I myself am one of those individuals who needs a 24/7 always on connection. As A MCSE/MCITP I have various companies ( as Im on Contract and on call ) that need my assistance at any time, the ability to fire up my VPN on my laptop and log in to any network I have currently worked on or trouble shot remotely is a key driving factor and asset in my profession. Now IMHO Amtrak dropped the ball on not deploying broadband on the NEC almost a decade ago ( when Acela was introduced) and by now should have had it installed on all of Amtrak's busiest routes by 2010. This again IMHO was needed to not keep ahead of the TECH curve but to merely keep pace with it. There were many nay sayers back in the late 90s who thought that TXT messaging on a phone was a fad ( I owned one of the first AT&T Mitsubishi txt capable cell phones) and one that would be phased out because everyone had a pager...well I need not say any more. Besides me there are people from all walks of life with reasons and situations that need genuinely need a 24/7 connection although I think of it more so A 12/7 connection is the going trend. Even my own mother bless her heart ( almost near retirement) who thought that she would never need the Internet for anything more than casual surfing has found that in her profession ( rel estate) for the last 7 yrs she can no longer live without a HS connection her laptop sleeps in the bed with her!

Ahh to Mr. Noah that Verizon unlimited data plan will be considered a God send as of July 7th get it while you can, renew your contract now, and grandfather it in ! As that is when Verizon will begin tiered pricing on there data packages ( following in the steps of ATT). There is currently a takeover ( they call it a merger I call it for what it really is) of Tmobile by ATT, once/if that happens ATT & Verizon will have a duopoly in the USA controlling over 80% of all the wireless subscribers in the USA and with there ultra low data caps and huge overage fees ( around $10 per GB) with 1 of every 3 phones now sold being a smartphone of some sort ( I myself own a new dual core TMobile G2X smartphone) and the ever increasing demand for data over A wireless network to feed said phones, when the overage charges start rolling in ( similar to what we use to see with cell phone mins, only this will be worse) you will see a lot of people start asking..." WHERES THE FREE WI-FI!" currently If I was on ATT and planed to take a trip from say Chicago to Carbondale 391 or 393 ( to visit my sister @ SIU) and I wanted to stream a HD movie or 2 from Netflix / Hulu to my phone or laptop I'd pay ATT more for Data access on that trip than I'd pay Amtrak for the ticket. So Again customers will start asking... WHO'S GOT FREE WIFI! In conclusion Amtrak need to think and stay ahead of the curve this time around.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby 161pw165 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:10 pm

Mr. Buddah, you had me until the end. The question begs to be asked, would the fact that you can't stream a movie or two on the ride to Carbondale really be a factor in your decision to take the train or not? Still, you bring up a good point re: data plans, that I didn't consider as I'm grandfathered w/ both my carriers.

I think we agree that corridor routes should be wi-fi enabled, as they lend themselves (hopefully in the overall travel scheme vis-a-vis bus or plane) to connectivity for business travellers' sake. Where other posters and I agree, however, is there is no pressing need to have wi-fi on LD routes. LD travellers are not likely to be doing so for business and are more likely looking for an extra "perk" for movies, texting, etc. that they would have to pay for anyway if going by air. So, back to the point of my earlier post: sit back; relax; look out the window; read a book; use a phone if you really need to communicate with the outside world.

To Amtrak, spend the money where you get the biggest long-term return - improved train frequency and new equipment. Not on an LD perk that doesn't have a significant return on investment regardless of how small the capital outlay may seem.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby Matt Johnson » Thu Jun 30, 2011 1:51 pm

I never had much need for wi-fi, though I did recently use it at a hotel for the first time when I happened to have my laptop with me. I've never carried a laptop while traveling by train, however.

I will say that I have become rather addicted to my BlackBerry, and having data coverage for my phone is something I find convenient when traveling by train.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Jun 30, 2011 2:16 pm

buddah wrote:Mr Norman may I chime in on this subject. WIFI for the 21st century has been and will be a driving force in almost all aspects of life. To be "wired in" via Ethernet or WIFI will simply be the norm. I do understand your viewpoint as only 1 desktop resides in your dwelling, However given your location am I correct in assuming your probably not on dial up connection? I'd assume you have some type of broadband connection ( ATT DSL/UVERS, Comcast, W.O.W ,ETC.) albeit your hardwired via Ethernet cable directly from your modem with no need for a wifi enabled router, would that be an accurate foresight of your network?

Mr. Buddah, I did "graduate" from dial-up to Comcast broadband during June 2007. I got this present computer during March 2007 (XP), but I had three months of unexpired time with my Dial-up ISP, so we just did without, and kept my former computer (W98) until then when I donated it to a charitable agency. It is, as you surmised, hard wired, as are my two land line telephones (yes, they are touch dial).

My cellphone is just that - an LG clamshell phone marketed by Verizon (it has Bluetooth so when driving it is "piped' through my auto's audio system), which only gets used during out of town trips. I have had bills showing 0 minutes used (not this one upcoming as I was out of town for a week).

But lest we forget, I do know people my age that don't have a computer and have no intention of getting one - one does not have a cell phone and has rabbit ears on the analog TV (he did buy the digital conversion box).
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby shadyjay » Thu Jun 30, 2011 2:51 pm

The advances in technology in recent years have been incredible. Not that long ago, cell phones only made calls, dial-up internet was the only internet there was, etc etc. I can see why Amtrak has added Wi-Fi to Acela Express trains, as those are more business-oriented. However, how many folks have iPhones, Droids, and such which have the internet included as long as there is cell service? I'm guessing a large population of that clientel do.

Personally, I could care less about having Wi-Fi access when I'm on the train. Isn't it all about the journey... looking out the window at the passing scenery, meeting/talking with new people? Oh yeah - a 21st century conversation is two people sitting next to each other, texting each other back n' forth.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby TomNelligan » Thu Jun 30, 2011 2:58 pm

Perhaps relevant to this interesting discussion is a lighthearted feature article in today's Boston Globe that discusses how unfamiliarity with the technological whizbangs that are so popular among the young'uns makes us old folks feel even older:

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2011/06/30/technology_makes_some_people_feel_old/

For me, WiFi at an airport is a handy way of passing time, and at a hotel it's very useful for communication purposes, but it's not the end of the world if I can't connect while sitting on a train for a few hours. At the same time, I know that some people feel otherwise and begin to go pale and tremble if they haven't checked Facebook in the last five minutes.
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby David Benton » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:00 pm

obviously you old fella's havent discovered train station on facebook . oops . gotta go get those trains moving .!
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Re: This Wi-Fi Stuff

Postby Matt Johnson » Thu Jun 30, 2011 4:16 pm

shadyjay wrote:Personally, I could care less about having Wi-Fi access when I'm on the train. Isn't it all about the journey... looking out the window at the passing scenery, meeting/talking with new people?


For me it's about looking out the window and taking cool photos of the passing scenery with my BlackBerry, and then uploading them to facebook! :) Oh, and of course keeping an eye on our speed with my GPS speedometer app... ;)
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