Caltrain unveils Wi-Fi on San Francisco-San Jose commuter trains

By Cyrus FarivarBy Cyrus Farivar

SAN FRANCISCO – Caltrain officials today unveiled the first stage of onboard WiFi along a section of the commuter rail that runs from San Jose to San Francisco, a distance of over 40 miles.

On a regular Baby Bullet train traveling near 80 miles per hour, rail officials, along with representatives from Intel Solution Services, Nomad Digital and Sensoria, demonstrated a sustained Internet connection on a stretch of 16 miles of track from Millbrae to Palo Alto using a previously set-up computer. They loaded several webpages and displayed streaming video.

However, officials did not allow members of the media to independently verify the reliability of the connection using their own laptops.

Rita Haskin, a Caltrain spokesperson, said that Caltrain hopes to open up the service to the public within one year on the entire rail network and said that there engineering and financial challenges before the entire project can be completed.

“We think it’s something that will bring new customers to Caltrain,” she said.

Unlike other train-based wireless Internet systems, the Caltrain has a high-speed pre-WiMax connection that connects to various base stations along the track. The Internet signal is then redistributed using WiFi access points in each of the train cars.

Other rail networks in California, including the ACE Commuter train (Stockton to San Jose) and the Capital Corridor (Sacramento to San Jose), are limited to cellular data service retransmitted over WiFi and have met with limited success.

One rider traveling with a laptop said that he would be very interested in using WiFi on the train.

Chris Reid, 30, a software engineer who commutes from Santa Clara to San Francisco, said that onboard Internet access would allow him to access remote files and be more productive during his commute.

“[The presence of WiFi] would be a large factor as to whether or not I would take the train,” he said.

UPDATE: See ABC News video here.


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