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Amtrak Has a Plan to Fix Its Awful Wi-Fi

Steve Snowden—Getty Images Arriving Amtrak passengers are seen walking towards the terminal during Amtrak's National Train Day on May 10, 2014 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Rejoice, Amtrak riders! The rail service is planning to address one of your most pressing first-world problems: the spotty Wi-Fi on Amtrak trains.

The problem with Amtrak’s current Wi-Fi is that Amtrak trains pick up their Internet connection via cellular towers, which are already crowded for bandwidth and fade in and out of range on a train speeding along at 160 miles per hour. And, according to Amtrak, more than half of riders are competing for bandwidth on the system, slowing it down even further — and Amtrak says even more riders will try to connect in the coming years.

Amtrak’s solution? It’s seeking a contractor to build a trackside wireless network along its Northeast Corridor, which connects Boston to Washington, D.C. and also services New York City and other major cities. The theoretical new network will be comprised of base stations near the rail line that will connect trains via fiber line or microwave to the nearest Internet connection port — essentially, Amtrak’s building a wireless network just for its trains and passengers instead of sharing existing cell towers that weren’t built to support speeding trains.

The overhauled Internet service will have speeds of up to 25 megabits per second in each car with plans to hit 100 Mbps by 2019. Amtrak wants to build a fiber backbone with a capacity of up to 1 gigabit per second to serve multiple trains simultaneously, with plans to scale that capacity to 3 gigabits per second by 2019.

Development of the overhauled Wi-Fi system could begin soon — contractors’ proposals to implement Amtrak’s plan are due by July 28.

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