The provision of Wi-Fi on trains in England may be discontinued as part of cost-saving measures, following the government’s announcement that it is considered a low priority for passengers.
The Department for Transport is planning to review the current Wi-Fi service to assess if it delivers the best value for money, due to cost pressures. However, a rail expert has criticized this decision, suggesting that it could result in a loss of customers for train services.
Currently, most train operators offer free Wi-Fi as a standard amenity on their trains. Transport officials referred to a report from the independent passenger watchdog, Transport Focus, which indicated that passengers were more concerned about value for money, reliability, and punctuality rather than access to Wi-Fi.
The Department for Transport (DfT) emphasized the financial unsustainability of the railways and the need for comprehensive reforms. According to the DfT, passenger surveys consistently show that on-train Wi-Fi is of low priority, justifying a review of the service’s value for money in collaboration with operators.
The existing on-train Wi-Fi equipment, installed in 2015, is now due for replacement. The government noted that many passengers on short journeys prefer to use their mobile phone networks rather than connect to the on-train Wi-Fi.
Anthony Smith, the chief executive of Transport Focus, argued that access to Wi-Fi is now an expected standard for many passengers and removing it would be difficult to justify, particularly in the post-pandemic context where attracting more passengers to trains is crucial.
Christian Wolmar, who reported the DfT’s decision in his podcast Calling All Stations, stressed the importance of reliable on-train Wi-Fi, especially during longer journeys. He compared Wi-Fi availability to the availability of a toilet, stating that passengers expect it as a basic amenity.
Wolmar also pointed out that the equipment would still need to be replaced for staff purposes, rendering the potential savings relatively insignificant. He predicted that most train services would lose access to Wi-Fi within the next year or two, resulting in a potential loss of customers.
Andy Bagnall, the chief executive of Rail Partners, emphasized the need to focus on innovating and improving the overall customer experience rather than removing features that passengers value. He viewed the proposal to discontinue Wi-Fi as symptomatic of the current fragmented management of industry finances, limiting operators’ ability to respond to customer needs.
The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operating companies across Britain, chose not to comment on the matter.