Queensland Rail, one of Australia’s largest train and transport companies which operates around 200 commuter and regional services along 7,000 km of track for more than 440,000 customers a year, is rolling-out free Wi-Fi on its trains. So far, up to two-thirds of its commuter trains have been kitted out with the new technology, supplied by Nomad Digital Pty Ltd.
The broadband Internet service was originally set up in order to improve passenger safety with the ability to stream live video in the event of an incident. However, a lot of positive feedback from passengers about being able to access emails or browse the Internet while travelling has seen an increase in demand for its services.
Last month saw Queensland Rail reach the milestone of one million user logins since last year. On average, currently around 58,000 passengers a week are using the service for roughly half an hour each trip. Feedback, mostly via Twitter, has been overwhelmingly positive. The top three most popular websites accessed on Queensland trains are Apple, Google and Queensland Rail — the latter, quite usefully, for up-to-the-minute information on train departure and arrival times or connections.
For exploring additional revenue streams, Queensland Rail is currently trialing advertising (like popups on screens) to subsidize the free Internet service. It’s also put a 20 megabyte cap on passenger usage to ensure that there’s a consistent and reliable service for everyone. Only around 10 percent of passengers reach their data limit.
Typical travel times on the Queensland rail network range from just over an hour to and from Brisbane on its commuter services; to fifteen hours on regional trains that link Brisbane to Cairns. There are 170,000 passenger movements a day along the Gold Coast to Brisbane line.
Since implementing the wireless technology between October 2010 and October 2012, overall benefits cited include:
• Increased revenue opportunities from advertising
• Improved perception as a leading-edge rail operator
• Better security from CCTV
• Extended operational applications, including remote access for timetable updates
• Remote monitoring
The improved train connectivity has led to better security on its trains, something previously of major concern to some passengers and staff. For instance, if a passenger pushes an emergency alarm in a train carriage, a video link gives instant access to the control room so that security can be alerted and ready to deal with any incident quickly and efficiently. The driver can also see, record and download high quality images and CCTV videos of an offender.
A spokesperson for Queensland Rail said that using one mobile phone network alone is not effective enough: particularly in some parts of the country where poor coverage means loss of communication. So the company is doing its utmost to ensure more reliability, by working across multiple networks. Nomad’s technology utilizes the three main mobile phone carrier networks which guarantees a higher level of network coverage and better bandwidth availability. The Nomad Digital wireless system is also a lot cheaper and more effective, he said.
Due to the importance of security — especially for data hungry applications like streaming high quality CCTV videos — the quality of service is guaranteed thanks to imbedded software which decides what internet traffic takes priority. So, for instance, camera footage will take priority over passenger Wifi; or urgent driver radio announcements) will clearly need to come before CCTV.