The latest survey of 27,000 UK train passengers from Transport Focus (TF) has revealed that just 33% of commuters are satisfied with the reliability of their on-board internet connection (up from 30% last year) and 36% were satisfied with the availability of WiFi. Heathrow Express came top with 74% satisfied.
Achieving a reliable and stable internet connection on-board trains, which are almost constantly in motion (except during strikes or engineer work etc.) and frequently passing through areas of weak signal (e.g. tunnels, isolated rural areas), is not an easy thing to achieve. Whether via WiFi or Mobile Broadband, at some point your connection will probably cut out.
Meanwhile the degree to which on-board internet connectivity is considered important can also vary depending upon your reason for travelling. The Williams Rail Review, which separately surveyed 12,000 train users to find out what they want, noted that business passengers place a higher relative importance on data connectivity and gave the provision of free Wi-Fi on board a score of 146 against 109 for commuters and 90 for leisure (a score of 100 is considered to be of ‘average importance‘).
As the review said: “In effect, there is a trade-off between capacity and performance. For commuters there is a bigger sense of ‘just get me there’, perhaps recognising the reality that seats will not always be available at peak times. For leisure and business passengers there is more of an emphasis on the quality of the journey – meaning seats and the provision of Wi-Fi are higher priorities than the national average.”
Nevertheless the Government is working to improve the situation and they’ve previously proposed to make “uninterrupted” WiFi and Mobile (5G) broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) available on-board all UK mainline train routes by 2025, although it remains to be seen whether this can be delivered.
In the meantime TF’s latest survey notes that different operators and routes are better served than others, which naturally results in quite a varying level of satisfaction with on-board internet reliability.
UK Train Operators Ranked by Internet Reliability (Satisfied)
Heathrow Express 74%
Gatwick Express 57%
Hull Trains 56%
Chiltern Railways 50%
London North Eastern Railway 43%
Arriva Trains Wales 43%
Grand Central 41%
TransPennine Express 40%
Virgin Trains 40%
TfL Rail 35%
Great Western Railway 33%
East Midlands Trains 32%
West Midlands Trains 30%
London Overground 27%
South Western Railway 25%
Greater Anglia 21%
Great Northern 20%