Network Rail fined £53m to boost WiFi on rail routes

High-speed WiFi services will come to UK train lines

WiFi services across key rail commute routes will be rolled out thanks to £53.1m investment from Network Rail, which was levied as a fine for not meeting service standards.

The Office for Rail Regulations (ORR) issued the fine after it said Network Rail had failed on its promise to deliver average punctuality levels of 92 percent for long-distance services between 2013-14, instead only reaching 86.9 percent.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it will use this money to help fund faster WiFi services, which it hopes will be 10 times faster than services currently available.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, said this was key to bringing connectivity fit for the digital age to commuters around the UK. “We all know how frustrating it can be to have our phone calls and internet use constantly disrupted by poor signal while travelling on trains. Passengers expect and deserve better and with these plans, that is what they’ll get,” he said.

Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, said the organisation accepted the fine and hoped to ensure its future performance would improve. Carne also welcomed the plans for improving WiFi coverage, saying it would complement existing plans at Network Rail to boost mobile coverage.

“The increasing availability of mobile broadband on trains will mean rail travel is an even more attractive option for many people as they can make better productive use of their journey time,” he said.

“We welcome the announcement today of the additional funds to roll this out across the network more quickly.”

Not everyone was so impressed with the plans, though, with National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) acting general secretary Mick Cash arguing that the money should be spent on more important things.

“The public need to be aware of the brutal fact that the £50m performance fine expected to be levied on Network Rail this week will come straight out of critical safety maintenance and renewals budgets and diverted into the pockets of the greedy private train companies to finance WiFi services on their trains,” he said.

“Safety and reliability on the tracks will be compromised with the rip-off train companies once again getting a free ride. This is a total con trick instigated by the government that will come back to haunt the travelling public.”

Operators such as EE are also undertaking work to boost their voice and data coverage along key transport routes, covering both road and rail, as plans to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure continue.

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