Monday, January 28, 2008

Worcester-Framingham Commuter Rail Line will Pilot WiFi

I did not take the train into town this morning because I am on a business trip.

Even though I'm out of town, I'm still interested in train related issues. So when I started seeing articles about how the Worcester-Framingham line is going to pilot the MBTA's WiFi program, my first thought wasn't "Sweet! I can surf the web while riding the rails," it was "Does this mean we'll never get to Boston on time and they need to find a reason to justify poor performance to all of our companies?"

Since WiFi can attract a lot of attention, most of the major media outlets in Boston covered this announcement - The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, BostonNOW, and TV stations. Heck, even NetworkWorld.com wrote an article.

The pilot officially starts this Wednesday. The MBTA is claiming they are the first in the nation to be able to roll out WiFi technology to riders. The agency has spent $260,000 - 262,000 on installing WiFi across the 45 miles of track between Worcester and Boston. Supposedly service is available across the entire 45 miles, but then again this is the same agency that can't seem to get trains into Boston on time. Posters will notify riders that they are on a WiFi car (does this mean people will be extend their fights beyond who has to sit in the middle seat?).

And now we get to the heart of why I'm not so excited about this, as written by The Boston Globe:

The MBTA says 18,000 passengers rely on the Worcester/Framingham line on a typical weekday. It has been plagued by delays in recent months, largely because it is the only line dispatched by CSX Transportation, which also runs freight on the line.

Because bandwidth is limited, the T is also looking at technology that would limit how much bandwidth individual commuters can use so the signal spreads among more people. That could mean commuters would have to wait until they get to work to download videos.

This should be interesting.

4 comments:

FranklinWonderBoy said...

One of the WiFi enabled cars was on the 5:15 from BB to Franklin tonight (1/28). I realized this when I got off at Forge, and saw the poster on the side of the car (opposite the side you board on @BB.

So I had to see if it was active, flipped on my Ipod Touch, and lo and behold there was the signal "CommuterRail" and surfing via Safari had me acknowledge the terms of the connection and then I was off surfing.

Home page that opens is mbta.com, obviously not optimized for hand held devices.

I didn't really try to do much, and sitting in the car I had a medium strength signal. Don't know what it might have been like actually in the car!!

So, boys and girls, it does exist, and is "lit".

Maybe this car will stay on the Franklin Line? Sure hope so!

FranklinWonderBoy said...

Update on 1/29: 2 Cars in the 708 (7:00AM) from Forge had the posters on the outside of the car.

Using the iTouch, I had connectivity straight thru to BB. Email and browsing was fine. I did not try to view a Youtube vid, but will try if we get lucky tonight!

Note the two cars I have seen this on are in the 900 series of coaches.

Mike said...

Second Followup: Maybe TrainStopping could try to keep track of the cars with service?

Here is my contribution:

916

Keith said...

Only $260,000 for the T to install WiFi so only one car on selected trains will be able to use it?

Surely the T can find a better way to spend that money, like maybe improving the Commuter Information System displays so they actually send messages in real time instead of letting us know about Martin Luther King Day schedules three days after it mattered?

For an agency that is as cash-strapped as the T is, like $5 billion in debt according to a story in Metro this morning, isn't this a bit of an extravagance?