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Amtrak to Offer Free Wireless on Acela

Amtrak‘s Acela high-speed rail service between Boston and Washington, D.C., will soon feature wireless Internet access. Amtrak says Wi-Fi will be deployed in March, and will be free “initially.”

Most airlines charge between $5.95 and $13.95 for wireless access, depending on length of flight and type of device used (laptop, mobile phone). Considering Acela trips can last between one and eight hours, it’ll be interesting to see how wireless is priced.

More importantly, will business travelers flock to Acela once the perk is added? Flying between New York City and Boston, for example, is not necessarily quick, even though the flight itself takes only about 45 minutes. Hauling oneself out to JFK, wading through security, and then inevitably waiting to take-off makes for a prolonged and somewhat stressful experience. The actual travel time on Acela may be longer, but the ride itself is more comfortable and avoids all of the airport hassles. The Acela’s major stations—in Boston, New York, and Washington—are all more centrally located than those cities’ respective airports. Wireless access, which would allow travelers to work in transit, could be a big draw.

It’s also plausible that this is a first step toward broader wireless access across Amtrak’s network. If Wi-Fi service is successful on Acela, there seems to be no reason for Amtrak not to roll it out on other trains. Further, as Amtrak begins spending its $8 billion in stimulus finds, it’s reasonable to assume future high-speed rail systems, which will primarily be focused on linking large metropolitan areas (read: business travel), will offer Wi-Fi as well.

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