Rail passengers will benefit from free Wi-Fi on trains across England and Wales from 2017, the UK Rail Minister Claire Perry has announced. The £47.8 million funding required for Wi-Fi rollout will be reinvested from fines given to Network Rail for missing punctuality targets – the first time such money has been used for improvements targeted at passengers. Critics had long questioned the point of fining Network Rail for poor service, as in the end it would deprive it of cash that could be used to improve the lines. Train operators are now being asked to outline how they will meet the commitment to provide this important service for passengers. And train operators bidding for new franchises and direct award agreements will have to include this specification in their bid.
Where there is no new franchise agreement due in the next 2 years, almost £50 million of funding will be released from the Department for Transport to ensure Wi-Fi is available on selected services from 2017. The operators in this group are: Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSG), Southeastern, Chiltern and Arriva Trains Wales.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “I am determined to improve journeys for rail passengers. 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. 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.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “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. 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.”
The department has challenged rail industry operators to begin installing equipment as soon as possible to deliver Wi-Fi by 2017. The operators will now work with the department to develop detailed proposals identifying the most appropriate services and routes to benefit. Funding will be awarded subject to satisfactory proposals being received from TSGN, Southeastern, Chiltern, and Arriva Trains Wales.
Some operators have already installed equipment to provide improved mobile coverage on-board their trains, or are in the process of doing so. By targeting the investment at franchises that would otherwise have no immediate plans to introduce Wi-Fi the government is ensuring that as many passengers as possible benefit.
The £47.8 million funding is money that Network Rail has been required to return to the government for missing punctuality targets set by the Office of Rail Regulation. It is the first time such money has been reinvested into improvements targeted at passengers. Out of the £53.1 million total penalty against Network Rail, £5.3 million has been allocated to the Scottish government, in line with the proportion of the penalty paid by Network Rail for late train running in Scotland.