Amtrak is chugging into the modern age.
The federally funded national rail system announced this week the addition of free Wi-Fi onto 12 East Coast routes that are popular among commuters. The free AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi service is now on routes between Virginia and Boston, and the Empire Service (New York – Albany – Buffalo) and Keystone Service (New York – Philadelphia – Harrisburg, Pa.).
Other routes now with Wi-Fi, according to Amtrak, include: Carolinian (New York – Charlotte), Downeaster (Boston – Portland), Ethan Allen Express (New York – Rutland, Vt.), the New Haven – Spring Springfield Shuttle and Vermonter (Washington – St. Albans, Vt.). Wi-Fi is also now available in selected train cars between Adirondack (New York – Montreal), Maple Leaf (New York – Toronto), Palmetto (New York – Savannah, Ga.), and Pennsylvanian (New York – Philadelphia – Pittsburgh). Wi-Fi service is already available on high-speed Acela Express trains in the Northeast Corridor and on the Amtrak Cascades service in the Pacific Northwest
The expansion brings Wi-Fi to nearly 60 percent of the total passengers served by the rail service. In fiscal 2010, Amtrak had 28 million passengers and was support by a combination of $2.5 billion in revenue and a $1.5 billion federal appropriation.
Wi-Fi is also coming to the rail line’s West Coast trains by the end of 2011, including the Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner and the San Joaquin. When done, Wi-Fi will be available to three-fourths of all passengers.
Amtrak explained that its efforts to expand wireless connectivity for passengers have been limited by the broadband capacity on cell towers located along the tracks. Amtrak said it’s currently in discussion with wireless carriers on how to improve connectivity speeds. But Amtrak’s Wi-Fi service is designed to take advantage of the 4G standard and future advances, officials said.
“Onboard Acela Express, AmtrakConnect blocks access to streaming video and restricts file downloads larger than 10 MB in order to provide all of our passengers with the best possible network experience,” according to an online description of the free Wi-Fi service.