It is now nearly ten years since the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) in California began looking at providing a Wi-Fi service for its passengers. Today we take a look one of the pioneers of on-board Wi-Fi and talk to Jim Allison the Manager of Planning at the CCJPA about the development of this service. The Capitol Corridor is an intercity passenger train system, launched in 1991 that connects 17 stations in 8 Northern California counties running from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento along a 170 mile-rail corridor.
The CCJPA first began looking at a Wi-Fi network for their trains in late 2003, although it was not until November 2011 that the service was launched. The intervening years saw a number of pilot and test projects testing everything from the technologies to the business models required to make the service succeed. After a number of options were considered, the “free model” emerged as the most favourable business model, with the ongoing operational costs for the wireless network borne out by the free nature of the service attracting more trips and ultimately more revenue.
I asked Jim Allison, what made CCJPA consider installing a Wi-Fi network on-board their trains, the answer is simple “It’s a service created specifically to boost ridership and the popularity of using our trains. In California we are in competition with the car and the ability to use Wi-Fi whilst travelling is an advantage we are keen to take advantage of.”
The CCJPA Wi-Fi service is free to use, but is only basic Wi-Fi, which means you can use the internet for activities like online shopping, visiting social media sites and checking your work email but steaming video sites such as You Tube, Hulu, and Netflix are blocked as are music streaming sites. Whilst sites with pornography are blocked, with the CCJPA using a filtering service similar to a blacklist system used by many large employers. Though Jim Allison adds that they do have a facility for customers to contact them if they feel a website has been incorrectly blocked and can then be potentially whitelisted to enable it to be viewed.
The CCJPA is proud of its Wi-Fi service and is keen to develop and evolve it in the future with both the passenger side and the operational side of the network. To aid in how things develop, the CCJPA is participating in a working group with Amtrak, Caltrans, and other states with passenger rail systems with wireless networks, and possibly, in the future, with other North American based passenger rail operators operating under a similar system.
A major challenge is keeping up with the bandwidth and the increasing demands of passengers. When 4G becomes more extensive and 4G modems are available for integration in the mix, the CCJPA will fund this improvement in bandwidth.
Another area of potential growth is the possibility to provide streaming entertainment content available locally on the train. This could be through subscription entertainment service (for example NetFlix) or through a cloud based solution. Whatever the future holds, Wi-Fi is there to stay for the CCJPA, Jim Allison again “Since our launch we’ve had great feedback from customers. And the increase in passengers has continued to cover the costs of providing the network. There is no going back from this service, it’s definitely here to stay. And grow!”