Irish Rail derails plans for Wi-Fi on trains

19 May 2008

Ireland’s national railway service Iarnród Éireann has dashed hopes it would put Wi-Fi broadband services on Irish trains, despite the potential of luring commuting executives away from the roads and onto public transport.

Across Europe, and in particular in Belgium, Scandinavia and the UK, rail providers are putting Wi-Fi services in rail carriages as an extra revenue stream, as well as meeting growing expectations of business customers and leisure passengers.

Only last week, pan-European rail provider Thalys rolled out Wi-Fi on its train carriages in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Its entire fleet will have the service by the end of this year.

In a deal with Nokia Siemens Networks, Thalys will install Wi-Fi equipment on all carriages and will use a combination of satellite, UMTS and Wi-Fi to ensure a continuous internet connectivity on trains travelling at 300km per hour.

However, in Ireland the situation couldn’t be more different. When advocates of Wi-Fi on Irish trains approached Iarnród Éireann, they were rebuffed with a statement that now sits on the company’s FAQ section of its website.

“Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) feels that it wouldn’t be in the public’s or the company’s best interest to install the current wireless technologies on its fleet for customer use due to the limited lifespan of said technologies. Anything we install now is likely to be completely redundant within five years.

“We feel customers would be better supported by obtaining their own wireless solutions, such as those provided by the mobile providers (3G and GPRS/EDGE).

“IÉ is hoping that near-future new technologies such as WiMax and other long-range wireless tech will make the idea of onboard solutions redundant. We will continue to monitor the speed of advance of such technologies and if we deem that change is not occurring quickly enough, we may reconsider the situation,” the company stated.

Wi-Fi practitioner and blogger, Evert Bopp, said that Iarnród Éireann’s response isn’t good enough.

“Some civil servant must have Googled WiMax for that answer! WiMax isn’t currently widely available in Ireland and may not be available the entire length of a train journey.

“Wi-Fi is a technology that will be around for the foreseeable future. The installation costs are very low and providers like Amtrak in the UK and Thalys on mainland Europe are creating an avenue for ancillary revenues.

“I ran a poll on my blog and the majority of voters said they would use it. If Iarnród Éireann deployed this service, it could make it more attractive for people to ditch the car and take the train instead. At the very least, they would be more productive, being able to get work done on the way to the office. This is extremely short-sighted on Iarnród Éireann’s part.”

As well as providing for ancillary revenue, Bopp said that Iarnród Éireann could also use the Wi-Fi service to push out important information like timetable changes and new service offerings.

By John Kennedy