WI: Amtrak's Hiawatha Train, 7 Other Routes Start Wi-Fi Service

Feb. 10--Free Wi-Fi is now available on Amtrak's Hiawatha trains and seven other Midwestern routes, Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb announced Monday.

Amtrak has installed wireless Internet on Midwestern trains for the first time in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri. The service will reach more than 3 million passengers a year, according to Amtrak.

"The Internet is really just something that we need to do our normal daily business," Gottlieb said. "Business travelers and other professionals rely on having that access and being able to spend that 90-minute trip productively by having access to the Internet."

Matt Hardison, Amtrak's chief marketing and sales officer, said free Wi-Fi has been proven to drive increases in ridership and loyalty on other routes, and he expects the Hiawatha will be no different.

"We're committed to delivering a modern, convenient, comfortable service," Hardison said. "Customers have consistently been ecstatic when we've offered Wi-Fi service in our trains."

Most U.S. passengers on Amtrak trains -- around 75% -- already have access to wireless Internet, particularly in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and California.

Tim Ferguson of West Bend, a passenger waiting to board an 11 a.m. train, said the Wi-Fi would definitely improve his trip. He occasionally takes the Hiawatha for his work.

"I'm seeing clients in Chicago, so I'll connect and get a few things done on my way," said Ferguson, the director of network services at FIS. "It'll be convenient."

The Midwestern routes with Internet service include those traveling between Chicago and St. Louis, Carbondale and Quincy, Ill.; from Chicago to Detroit, Pontiac, Port Huron and Grand Rapids, Mich.; and St. Louis to Kansas City, Mo.

The cellular-based technology combines networks from multiple cellphone carriers, and only supports general web browsing. It doesn't support live streaming or large downloads, according to Amtrak's website.

Capital costs for the Wi-Fi service for Wisconsin were about $300,000. Total operational costs, which include technical support, are about $86,000 a year. Wisconsin shares costs with Illinois, with Wisconsin picking up three-fourths of the bills.

The Hiawatha, which runs between Milwaukee and Chicago, is the busiest corridor in the Midwest with more than 800,000 riders a year. The route has the sixth highest ridership nationally.

Copyright 2014 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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