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Train passengers face losing free wifi as government cuts costs

Train passengers in England could lose wifi access as the government requires rail companies to discontinue the service unless they can prove its financial viability. 

The Department for Transport (DfT) is pushing for this measure as part of its cost-cutting efforts in the ongoing railway system reform.

While most train services in Britain offer free wifi as a standard amenity, the DfT has directed contracted operators in England to stop providing it if they cannot justify the expense. 

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The department argues it seeks “value for money” and considers wifi low importance to passengers, especially on shorter journeys.

Passenger groups and industry experts have raised concerns about this decision.

They assert that the railway should try to attract people back, especially since peak commuter numbers are still significantly below pre-pandemic levels. 

Christian Wolmar, speaking on the Calling All Stations podcast, called the measure “ridiculous,”

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He added: “The DfT actually wants to reduce the quality of the train service by saying to passengers: sorry, you can’t access wifi.”

He argued that wifi has become as essential as toilets on trains and that people expect to stay connected during their journeys.

Bruce Williamson from the passenger campaign group Railfuture said: “One of the great things about travelling by train is that you can work or watch a video or listen to a podcast – and wifi is pretty essential for that.

“We should be encouraging passengers to get back on the trains and this is a good example of a move that is going to make rail less attractive.”

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In response, a DfT spokesperson defended the decision, stating that the current state of the railways is financially unsustainable, and taxpayers should not bear the burden. 

The spokesperson highlighted that passenger surveys consistently rank on-train wifi as a low priority. 

However, Transport Focus, a passenger watchdog, cautioned against the DfT’s conclusion. 

The DfT is also considering the cost of replacing or upgrading wifi equipment on trains installed in the mid-2010s.

It also examines whether passengers on shorter journeys rely on their mobile phones or data instead of connecting to the operator’s wifi.

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