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Amtrak wants to build a Wi-Fi network that actually works

Amtrak wants to build a Wi-Fi network that actually works

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Amtrak's Wi-Fi service remains spotty and sluggish on many routes where it's available, despite the company's numerous attempts to upgrade on-train connectivity through the years. But now it's getting serious about the challenge. Amtrak says it wants to build a Wi-Fi solution that actually works for its Northeast Corridor. It wants to build "a true broadband experience" with enough capacity and speed to let riders watch YouTube, Netflix, and stream music over Spotify without worry. With the infrastructure in place now, that's just not a realistic possibility; Amtrak currently has restrictions in place against streaming services and large downloads.

Netflix on the train may not be so impossible

But now the company is exploring ways to change all that. It's soliciting bids for a proof-of-concept project that, if successful, could pave the way for fast and reliable Wi-Fi across the entire 457-mile NEC. The Northeast Corridor runs from Boston to Washington DC, making stops in major cities including New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. "We know that our customers want a consistently reliable and fast on-board Wi-Fi experience — something we cannot guarantee today on our busiest trains," said Amtrak CMO Matt Hardison. "And we want to make that possible."

It's no small task, and the solution won't come tomorrow. Amtrak says it will use the proof-of-concept project to assess whether reaching that scale is a viable goal — both in terms of technology and financial commitment. Still, for many frequent travelers familiar with the pain of Amtrack's current "Wi-Fi," the ambitious words are a welcome change.