WiFi on the trains, no more

Elizabeth Line train

It is looking like that, as part of a plan to save money, train operating companies will be getting rid of the wifi. I have blogged about train wifi quite a bit in the past, I wrote this blog post in 2010.

I did wonder why CrossCountry Trains didn’t put in wifi as you find on the East Coast Main Line services and Virgin Trains Pendolino. Well it appears that providing wifi was part of their Franchise agreement with the Department of Transport. CrossCountry Trains was suppose to have wifi in place by November 11th 2009. They failed to meet this deadline!

I also asked about the lack of train wifi on First Great Western (now GWR).

My question though is much more, why isn’t there wifi on First Great Western services from the West Country to London and why wasn’t it in their franchise agreement? I travel with First Great Western much more than I do CrossCountry and would really like it if they had wifi.

Eventually both companies put wifi on their trains. I did use the train wifi, but the constant disconnections, or failed attempts to connect authenticate, often meant, either no internet, or falling back on my phone’s data connection.

Of course, though I didn’t always use the wifi, others did. However, the BBC published an article recently that said train wi-fi at risk as part of cost-cutting move.

Rail users could lose access to wi-fi on trains in England as part of cost cuts after the government said it was a low priority for passengers. The Department for Transport says cost pressures mean it will review whether the current wi-fi service “delivers the best possible value for money”.

Most times I travel by train these days I am more likely to use my own 4G or 5G connection as I still find train wifi unreliable. However I still think it should be on trains for those that don’t have their mobile connectivity.

You have been using too much wifi

GWR HST in 1976 colours

I’ve noticed that GWR (who were First Great Western) have started to limit their customers’ use of wifi. Three years after free wifi was introduced on their high speed trains, they’ve realised that it’s very popular and have implemented restrictions.

I've noticed that GWR (who were First Great Western) have started to limit their customers’ use of wifi. Three years after free wifi was introduced on their high speed trains, they’ve realised that it’s very popular and have implemented restrictions.

Back in 2007 I wrote an article, This is the age of the train… talking about the refurbishment by FGW, then I said

Do you think I should point out to First Great Western that some train operators provide free wireless on their trains, or do you think that would be pushing it?”

After seven years in 2014, it looked as though they finally listened and added wifi to their carriages on their high speed services from Bristol to London. Back then when trying it out I discovered.

The speed, as you might expect travelling at 125mph is inconsistent, but having done a speed test I was hanging to get between 5-9 Mbps which is more than reasonable. I was also able to stream video using YouTube and iPlayer.

I also asked the question:

Will the travelling public use the wifi, what with 4G and 3G so much more commonplace than back in 2007?

Well it certainly looks like they have been using it, hence the restrictions that GWR have put in place.

It’s nice that they also let you know how it is being used and how much bandwidth is available.

It's nice that they also let you know how it is being used and how much bandwidth is available.

It isn’t surprising that they need to do this, as technically I can’t see them being able to increase the bandwidth easily, so it make sense to restrict usage.

Having said that 15MB is not very much, not in this day of HTML e-mail messages, attachments, Twitter, Facebook and so on…

Well at least it’s still free. Hey Cross Country are you listening?

Me, well I still using my own 4G connection, it’s faster and unlimited data is greater than 15MB.

QR Codes on the Train

Travelling back from London I found on the back of the seat reservation cards on the First Great Western train I was a QR Code competition (or draw).

I didn’t actually notice them until I was getting off the train, the main reason they’re on the back and I was sitting at one of those rare table seats so didn’t have the back of the reservation card facing me.

You’re not really suppose to remove them I guess, so you’ll probably spend time trying to scan it in from your seat with the person sitting in front of you wondering what on earth is going on!

So quite a nice idea really by FGW, scan in the QR code and enter the competition, but alas the execution failed really!

Rather than use a QR code to create a text message it was only an URL which then sent you to a standard web page (not mobile optimised) which you then needed to fill in all the details.

It’s obviously not really a competition, more a draw to gather in personal information to send you loads of marketing materials. I don’t have much of a problem with that as you don’t have to enter and that’s all competitions are really, a way of gathering data.

However I couldn’t really see the benefit of using a QR code here, the point of a QR Code is to reduce or replace the need to enter text using a mobile device. However in this case the text you needed to enter (even the bare minimum) on the web form was way more than if you decided not to enter via QR Code and use the SMS entry details. It also assumes that you have 3G access on the train (no wifi with FGW) and that is most certainly not always the case.

This really was a pointless exercise in many respects and really missing an opportunity to take advantage of what QR codes can offer. To prove a point, this is one I created which will allow you to send an SMS just by scanning the code.

You won’t need to add any more information (in theory you need to add your e-mail address) and FGW will then get your entry and your mobile number; so they can then start sending you marketing SMS text messages.

As for the competition and the prize? Well if you do enter and win, you win an Amazon Kindle. Nice I guess as it is a great device… however when will you know you’ve won?

So the 8th August 2012, nearly a year away, by which time there will be new and different devices available.

As you will realise if you read this blog on a regular basis that we are seeing more and more QR codes in the mainstream, both media and corporates are using them, in the main for marketing purposes. However the execution of them is in many ways poor and done without thinking about the end user trying to scan and use them.

QR Codes on Platform 2

I am now seeing QR Codes more and more in what I would call the mainstream. My most recent observation was at my local railway station (managed by First Great Western) where I was checking the timetable and noticed the QR Code in the corner.

Looking at it in more detail, I just had to scan it in, well one does these kinds of things…

I use Optiscan on the iPhone as I have found it to be very reliable and certainly on the 3GS was the best option I found. The reason I like Optiscan is that it works nearly every time.

Of course all a QR Code is, is a shortened URL and no matter how easy it is to scan in with the phone, the key, the end result is how does the final web page look on your mobile device.

I wasn’t that impressed with the landing page as I had to click a link to actually get the timetable.

I am pretty sure that FGW have done that because the timetables change, but even if that was the case, they would also need to reprint the printed version so could then print a new QR Code. Another reason might be to gather stats from the landing page. The actual digital timetable was in PDF format and was usable on the iPhone.

However given the choice I think I would probably use the Train Times App (also available on Android) which also gives live travel information so you know if your train has been cancelled. The problem with a PDF timetable is that it won’t account for live changes to the timetable, you could certainly have a QR code on a printed timetable linking to a live timetable, and I think FGW should have done that.