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Late trains fine to go on faster WiFi
From the Financial Times of Sun, 06 Jul 2014 13:39:19 GMT
Commuter using Wifi on a train©PA

Passengers on some trains will benefit from faster internet access after ministers decided to spend a fine imposed on Network Rail for poor punctuality on a free WiFi service.

The Department for Transport said the plans for the mobile broadband upgrade should enable internet access 10-times faster than at present.

It added the services are expected to be free when they start to be phased in from 2017 or 2018.

WiFi services on trains currently suffer from being intermittent and slow, and passengers can have to pay for services.

Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, said: “We all know how frustrating it can be to have our phone calls and internet use constantly disrupted by poor signal while travelling on trains. Passengers expect and deserve better and with these plans, that is what they’ll get.”

The transport department estimates it will cost £90m to fit trains with WiFi equipment providing fast internet access. Train operating companies will have to bid for funds from the department, and ministers are expecting the initial focus to be on busy commuter trains.

In the next three to four years, passengers are likely to see the first improvements on routes into London from Bedford, Brighton, Kent and Portsmouth, as well as services into Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

Network Rail, the body responsible for the network, has been braced for a £70m fine after the Office of Rail Regulation last year found the body was falling well short on punctuality targets for long-distance trains. But the final fine is due to be smaller partly because the regulator is expected to make an allowance for bad weather.

It will be the first time that a fine has been reinvested in improvements targeted at passengers.

Last month, the transport department extended Virgin Rail’s franchise on the West Coast main line, Britain’s busiest intercity route, until 2017 with an option to take it to 2018. As part of the deal, Virgin’s Pendolino and Super Voyager trains will be fitted with free WiFi.

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