While Amtrak trains shuttle up and down the Northeast Corridor, there’s one avenue where riders are more apt to find a traffic jam: the onboard wifi.
Amtrak officials agree. On Monday, they announced plans to upgrade trackside wifi on the Northeast Corridor line.
The upgrade would boost onboard internet service from 10Mbps to 25Mbps and make it scalable for future technologies. The Northeast Corridor line runs from Washington to Boston with stops in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia and New York.
The rail carrier is seeking bids for a 10-mile proof of concept project on track south of Wilmington, Del. Lenetta McCampbell, the rail carrier’s senior director of passenger experience, said Amtrak hopes to begin design on the project this year. Construction could begin as early as next winter.*
Amtrak currently offers wifi service on many short-service trains nationwide and in stations including Baltimore Penn Station, New York Penn Station, Wilmington Station and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Currently, onboard wifi operates via local 3G and 4G cellular networks. A higher-bandwidth solution could use radio transmission, said Matt Hardison, Amtrak’s chief marketing and sales officer.
The carrier introduced the first onboard wifi on Acela Express trains in 2010.
“Since we launched it we’ve been [facing] what the entire industry has been facing, which is rapidly growing demand for the service,” he said. “Looking forward, we know that demand is going to continue to grow and we want to grow the bandwidth to continue to meet that.”
The major challenge to implementing any upgrade is that, while the Northeast Corridor line is the only track Amtrak owns, it’s also the busiest passenger railroad in North America, buzzing with Amtrak regional and Acela trains and commuter rail services like SEPTA and MARC.
“It’s difficult to shut the railroad down,” McCampbell said, but added that the project is still important if it’s proven to be technically and financially feasible. “This is something we are very excited to be doing … because our passengers would definitely like to see us doing something like this.”
*Correction: An earlier version of this article said both design and construction were likely to be complete by the end of 2014.