Government invites four operators to apply for funding and will make train Wi-Fi a condition of any future franchise bid
The government has announced plans to make free Wi-Fi available to the majority of rail passengers in England and Wales by 2017.
A number of train operators already offer wireless connectivity on several routes, but the government wants to expand this network by requiring all bidders in future franchise auctions to make provisions for wireless connectivity.
However there are no such auctions due to be held within the next two years so the Department for Transport has invited the owners of four franchises with no current plans to deploy Wi-Fi to bid for a share of £50 million to accelerate the rollout.
Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN), Southeastern, Chiltern, Arriva Trains Wales will be eligible to apply for the grants, which are being funded by fines levied against Network Rail for missing punctuality targets.
“Free Wi-Fi is a priority for many as being able to keep up with work, connect with friends or even check the latest journey information online helps make rail travel more productive,” said Rail Minister Claire Perry. “We are investing record amounts in the rail network as part of our long-term economic plan, and this investment, coupled with major works such as the Thameslink programme, new Intercity Express trains and the Northern Hub, will ensure that passengers will soon have a railway fit for the 21st century.”
It had been thought that the revenue generated from the Network Rail fines would be used to build a wireless network for a number of commuter routes into London, but it appears as though the government has now adopted a less concentrated approach.
The Scottish government has already pledged £2 million to bring free Wi-Fi to ScotRail express trains while, Leeds and Bradford authorities have used money from the Super Connected Cities programme to deploy wireless on several routes in West Yorkshire.
“As someone who regularly travels from the north of Scotland around the country, I appreciate the value of fast, cheap internet connections on trains for both leisure and business travellers,” added Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury. “That’s why the government is earmarking around £50 million to provide free Wi-Fi on trains; this and our other franchising improvements mean that nearly three-quarters of rail journeys will be made on trains with Wi-Fi provision.”
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