Transport User Voice – September 2020 – Connectivity on the railway

27 August 2020

Rail users left frustrated

Can you rely on a good internet connection when you’re travelling by train? Our recent research tells us that most passengers would answer ‘no’.

Despite having very high expectations, only three in 10 passengers are satisfied with the internet connection they usually receive on trains.

Our research looked at the quality of connectivity available from both on-train Wi-Fi and mobile connections, along with passengers’ perceptions. It was based on mobile data from more than 80,000 passengers and survey responses from 4752 members of our Transport User Panel.

What connected activities do passengers want to be able to perform on trains? Being able to send/receive emails, browse the web, send web-based messages (on platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook messenger) and make voice calls were listed as the most important.

On the satisfaction scales, most passengers told us they experience poor connectivity for at least some of their regular journeys, with 40 per cent ‘dissatisfied’ overall. The least satisfied were those travelling for business, no doubt because of a greater desire to ensure their journey time is productive.

The evidence on the quality of internet connections largely supports passengers’ views. The results of our research showed that download speeds available on trains are slower than across Great Britain more generally.

For 4G, passengers only receive a ‘good’ or better connection classification 58 per cent of the time – also falling short of GB-wide results.

Other key findings:

  • download speeds for on-train Wi-Fi were slower than passengers’ own mobile connections
  • those using on-train Wi-Fi experience more delays in data communication than those using 4G
  • almost 96 per cent of web-based activity is conducted over mobile network connections, while only around four per cent is carried over the on-train Wi-Fi
  • most passengers believe that having information available to them on a specific train’s connectivity is important.

Almost three quarters of train users also told us that they think it is important that internet connectivity on trains is improved – though connectivity on the whole has probably been bumped lower down on the list of passenger priorities in light of Covid-19 concerns. Nevertheless, these passengers will welcome the recent announcement that the government is investing £200,000 into developing antenna prototypes, with the aim of improving connectivity on the railway.

You can download the report here.


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