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All aboard the UK WiFi express: Govt offers cash as election looms

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via Flickr © Takashi(aes256) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The UK government has announced that it’s going to kick-finish (rather than kick-start) the penetration of WiFi on the nation’s railways.

There’s already quite a bit of WiFi on some trains and much-loved it is. But the government, having its eye on the looming national election which all agree is likely be the closest-fought and least predictable in modern times, wants to spend a little then take a lot of credit for wirelessing up rail travel.

It’s a clever plan. The UK has a two-tier railway structure with the tracks owned by a single government-controlled body and the services on individual lines run by franchise. The government has encouraged all the franchises to install WiFi as a free amenity and many already have. Now it wants the rest on-board (as it were) by 2017.

Some of the non-WiFi operators have their franchises coming up for tender within that time, so the government is making WiFi a franchise condition. For the remaining four WiFi refusenik operators (those who have not factored WiFi installation into their long-term plans) the government is simply paying for them to do so… which seems somewhat unfair to the franchises which have already forked out. That’s politics for you.

The lucky recipient franchises are Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN);  Southeastern; Chiltern; and Arriva Trains Wales.

The government isn’t so much offering new cash (there is no such thing in these days of austerity) but will be diverting £47.8 million from fines owed by Network Rail, the track owner, for missing punctuality targets.

At least now all those inconvenienced by Network Rail’s lack of punctuality will be able to email ahead to make their apologies.

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