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Wireless Networking Networking Transportation

Amtrak Upgrades Wi-Fi 164

New submitter WillgasM writes "A bit of good news for American travelers, according to the New York Times: 'After years of criticism of the wireless service on its trains, Amtrak announced on Thursday that it had upgraded its cellular-based Wi-Fi using broadband technologies that will improve the speed and reliability of the Internet in its passenger cars.' So far the service has been rolled out on the high-speed Acela lines and a few routes in California, but they hope to have the rest of their trains upgraded by the end of Summer. We're still an order of magnitude away from high-speed rails in other countries, but it's nice to know someone's trying."
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Amtrak Upgrades Wi-Fi

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  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @01:16PM (#43754551)

    amtrak has a couple places they'll go to 110 MPH, and mostly 80 MPH is the limit. On good old 18th and 19th century style rails-on-wood-in-pebble ballast. I could drive my dodge caravan around at 100MPH too and call it a high speed sports car....

  • by RevDisk ( 740008 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @01:41PM (#43754857) Journal
    It's optimized for freight, not passenger service. US has the most advanced freight railroad system in the world. Passenger service makes sense in some area, in others it will always be break even at best. 15,000 tons of coal is not something you need or want to move at 80+ MPH.

    It doesn't receive a lot of attention (folks often want high speed rail for mass transit), but our rail network is pretty good for what makes economic sense.
  • by mrvook ( 1329773 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @01:43PM (#43754895)
    Amtrak is a commuter rail *car* that often times is accompanied by freight. As an experienced Amtrak user myself, on long trips, the train regularly will stop, back up, and pick up freight cars. Sometimes the majority of the train, including the engine, is of the freight variety, with only a few Amtrak cars along for the ride.
  • Historical accident, not politics. The NEC is the only part of the national rail system Amtrak actually owns.

    Amtrak exists because a giant railroad company that operated most trackage in the North East called Penn Central was going bankrupt. In the early seventies it went to Nixon and said, essentially "We might survive if we can get rid of passenger service. which costs lots of money and isn't covering its costs for us. Hey, whatsay we make passenger service a government program, and then you guys can screw it up even more and close it down after two years? Then we can sell all the track we no longer need, cover our debts, and just do nice profitable freight in future."

    (You probably think I'm doing a dig at Amtrak there with the "government program" and "screw it up" bit, but actually, that really was the plan. I'm not kidding. A few years after Amtrak's creation, Louis W. Menk, the then chair of the Burlington Northern, actually blurted it out in public, saying that the government was making a mess of screwing it up. Look it up.)

    So, anywho, the other railroads were also invited to join, as most (but not all) were having similar problems. Amtrak was formed. Penn Central went bust anyway.

    The bankrupt Penn Central was then reconstituted as Amtrak and Conrail. Amtrak got the NEC. Conrail got the rest. Conrail became amazingly profitable, was privatized, and finally split between CSX and NS. Amtrak has finally gotten the NEC to be profitable over the last few years, though the rest of its passenger service is still technically "loss making". But the non-NEC services suffer from not being under its control. It can't run Acela Express services on CSX tracks, for example, because it would need massive upgrades to lines that Amtrak would barely benefit from.

  • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Friday May 17, 2013 @02:51PM (#43755709)

    That's part of the reason why FEC (Florida East Coast Railroad) has never been actively *hostile* towards passenger trains, compared to railroads like CSX(*). FEC runs mile-long trains hauling limestone at 60mph on glass-smooth welded-rail tracks that are maintained to higher standards than some stretches of track in the NEC itself. FEC's one non-negotiable mandate for voluntary passenger service on their tracks has always been that someone else had to pay to lay down a second track, maintain it to FEC's no-compromise high standards, and equip every train that runs on them with in-cab signaling and the kind of automation rarely found outside of Japan(**).

    Once Amtrak, Florida, and a federal funding act or two cleared the way for the feds to pay most of the bulk cost of double-tracking FEC from Jacksonville to Miami, FEC announced that Amtrak was welcome with open arms (Amtrak itself is still trying to scrape up funding for the trainsets themselves, or come up with a good way to split & join NY-Florida trains in Jacksonville so half can proceed straight down the east coast to Miami, and the other half can run to Orlando & Tampa (historically, Amtrak has always resisted splitting/joining trains anywhere besides an endpoint).

    (*)About 15 years ago, FDOT approached CSX with a request to double-track it from Auburndale to Tampa for Tampa-Miami passenger rail. CSX refused. FDOT offered to TRIPLE-track it... and CSX still refused. Exasperated, FDOT offered to elevate a ~12 mile segment running through Lakeland, and CSX told them that the only way they'd voluntarily allow it is if FDOT agreed to let CSX refund the purchase price and demolish it at will if it later decided that the support columns or track structure were in the way of whatever they felt like doing. That was the turning point when FDOT decided that any future rail route between Orlando and Tampa simply *had* to run along I-4 instead of CSX... CSX was impossible to deal with in any sane way, and taking the corridor via eminent domain would have ended up costing more than building it down the middle of I-4 instead (I-4 was planned for complete reconstruction over the next 10-20 years anyway, and FDOT owned a fairly wide corridor that was straight and flat, so they just designed the empty space into the new road and bridges so it would be there when the day came to build the new tracks).

    (**)FEC is a HUGE proponent of cross-training and automation, and because it operates entirely within a single state, it can get away with telling its union to go to hell over things that would get CSX crucified. For example, FEC requires all engineers and conductors to be cross-trained and capable of serving either role as needed (sensible and efficient, but *vehemently* opposed by railroad unions because it means the conductor can operate the train while the engineer takes a break, instead of having to staff a second engineer while the conductor twiddles his thumbs). I believe it also requires engineer-conductors to have college degrees.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"