Amtrak Might Speed Up Its Slow Internet

A blog about business and economics.
June 10 2014 11:08 AM

Amtrak Might Speed Up Its Slow Internet

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High speed trains, slow speed Wi-Fi.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Amtrak wants to upgrade the quality of its on-board Wi-Fi for trains traveling between Washington and Boston. This is a great thing. I know this is a great thing because I am writing most of this post while traveling on one of Amtrak's Northeast Regional trains between Boston and New York City. I will undoubtedly waste a few minutes checking email and scrolling through Twitter, but most of the minutes I lose will be eaten up by that little spinning circle at the upper left of my Google Chrome tabs.

To remedy that and other current Wi-Fi constraints—no streaming video, no large-file downloads—Amtrak announced Monday that it will solicit proposals to build a "high-capacity, broadband-speed" Wi-Fi network along its busy Northeast Corridor track. The goal is to increase each train's bandwidth from its current 10 megabits per second to a minimum of 25 Mbps, and eventually as high as 100 Mbps.

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Before the entire route gets an overhaul, Amtrak will test broadband network options along a section of its Northeast Corridor in Delaware south of Wilmington, said Lenetta McCampbell, senior director of onboard systems. "Because this hasn't been done in a network like ours, which has very high train traffic and high speed trains, we first want to prove the technology can work," she explained. If such a system does prove technically and financially viable, Amtrak plans to implement it along the entire 457 miles of the Northeast Corridor.

McCampbell declined to speculate on how much the project could cost. Whatever the cost, it will likely get passed along to the consumer. But this consumer, for one, will pay more if it means never again coming face to face with the pinwheel of death on the quiet car.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

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