Ministers vow to improve mobile and Wi-Fi connections on trains by 2025

The government has reiterated its desire for rail passengers to have access to high-speed W-Fi and improved mobile coverage by 2025 under new plans.

As part of its 5G strategy, the government has committed to improving coverage where people live, work and travel - including on trains. Under the new plans to deliver “drastic improvements”, fibre optic cables will be laid along rail tracks and through tunnels, and wireless devices will be mounted on mobile masts. Faster connections would mean that every commuter on board could watch videos simultaneously during their journey.

Minister for digital, Matt Hancock, said: “We want people to be able to get connected where they live, work and travel. This means improving connections on Britain’s railways now, and making sure they are fit for the future. We’ve got a long way to travel but our destination is world-class signal for passengers. This will not only make journeys more enjoyable and productive, but will help improve the operation and safety of the railway and deliver economic benefits for the whole of the UK.”

In December, ministers announced plans to give every home the legal right to demand high-speed broadband. The plans to provide better Wi-Fi and mobile signals on trains follow on from this announcement which spoke about the estimated 1.1m “forgotten” homes which are being left behind without access to good broadband speeds. 

Bruce Williamson from Railfuture, a group fighting for better rail infrastructure, has welcomed the plans. He added: “Wi-fi has moved from being an optional extra to something essential for the 21st century rail passenger, so we welcome any improvements to capacity and coverage. It should become absolutely standard for all trains on the British railway network to have seamless connectivity, as it’s essential for attracting the smartphone connected generation to rail, as well as the business traveller working on the move. Very soon, trains without wi-fi will become unthinkable, and rail passengers will look forward to the day when the phone doesn’t cut out in tunnels.”

The government’s announcement on improved connectivity came just days before Lord Adonis resigned as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission because of “fundamental differences on infrastructure and beyond”. The chairman said he was particularly proud of its plans for equipping the UK with world-class 4G and 5G mobile systems and that he hoped to see those plans implemented without delay.

Work on a trial of these new technologies has already begun on the trans-Pennine route between Manchester and York. The trial is a partnership with Network Rail and will look to reveal the challenges and hurdles that will need to be overcome in order to provide a fast, reliable internet connection from trackside masts to what will be an extremely fast-moving train.

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