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Amtrak Unveils Wi-Fi on its Acela Trains

**Update: Read on for my first-hand review of Amtrak’s new Wi-Fi.**

Amtrak has delivered on its promise to launch wireless Internet onboard its Acela trains. The service will be available on all Acela train cars and in the following stations:

  • Washington, DC – Union Station
  • Baltimore, MD – Penn Station
  • Philadelphia, PA – 30th Street Station
  • New York, NY – Penn Station
  • Providence, RI
  • Westwood, MA – Route 128

Amtrak says Wi-Fi will be free for now. It seems likely that a pricing structure similar to those the airlines use will be implemented at some point.

But free or not, wireless access on Acela trains is a no-brainer. Acela competes directly with airline shuttle service between Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., and with more carriers offering wireless, Amtrak needed to remain competitive. Now it can lure business travelers with wide seats, ample legroom, and en route productivity for a similar cost.

So what about the rest of Amtrak’s network? Amtrak says it has no plans to expand wireless at this time. However, with more high-speed rail lines on the horizon, I’d say it’s a safe bet Acela is only the beginning.

As it happens, I’m traveling on the Acela tomorrow. I’ll give the new Wi-Fi a test drive and report back with my experience. In the meantime, does this make you more likely to use Acela? Do you think it makes Acela more appealing to travelers?

**Update, March 3** I’m posting this update on the Acela as we speak, about 45 minutes into my trip, so that must mean the Wi-Fi is working. Hooray! Unfortunately, it’s not working that well. Pages have been extremely slow to load, and when they do finally load there are lots of errors, such as missing pictures. In fact, the system we use to publish our stories loaded with so many errors that I’m a bit worried I’ll crash the site when I post this entry. But if you’re reading this, good: We all survived.

Perhaps my experience is unique, but my sense is Amtrak’s wireless service isn’t ready for prime time. The in-flight wireless I’ve used was smooth and quick; this reminds me of dial-up. My iPhone is loading faster on AT&T’s 3G network.

Now, I may sound like a tech geek, but really I’m not. I’m still pretty awestruck by the idea of wireless Internet at all, let alone on a moving train or airplane. It’s like something out of The Jetsons, but it’s real life! That said, if this is what people can expect from Amtrak’s Wi-Fi, I have a hard time seeing many travelers opting to pay for it if a mobile device will likely operate faster. 

Maybe service will improve over the course of my trip, and I’ll let you know if it does (update: it didn’t). But if not, I think Amtrak has some work to do.

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