AmtrakConnect free WiFi added to 12 East Coast routes, snack car will still cost ya

Remember when we noted the existence of AmtrakConnect WiFi on the Adirondack train (number 69) about two weeks ago? Although it wasn't official at the time, it is now -- and it turns out that was just a sliver of what to expect. Amtrak recently announced that the free service is currently available on twelve of its East Coast routes, which should please many a railway commuter accustomed to WiFi deprivation. Eight of those routes (Northeast Regional, Keystone and Empire services, Carolinian, Downeaster, Ethan Allen Express, New Haven – Springfield Shuttle and Vermonter) feature full wireless connectivity from head to caboose, while the others (Adirondack, Maple Leaf, Palmetto and Pennsylvanian) have designated cars that allow for internet access. Factor in its Acela and Northwest Regional lines, and Amtrak says 60 percent of its fleet is now WiFi-capable with more additions due in California before the year's out. Better yet, "4G speeds" are also in the cards for the future, but we won't hold our breath waiting for an equally swift rollout. Full press release after the break.

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Major expansion to 12 East Coast routes includes Northeast Regional, Keystone Service and Empire Service

WASHINGTON – Responding to strong passenger interest, Amtrak is launching today a major expansion of its free AmtrakConnectSM Wi-Fi service to 12 East Coast routes. As a result, trains that carry nearly 60 percent of all Amtrak passengers now have Wi-Fi connections.

This phase of Wi-Fi expansion includes Northeast Regional trains, the most popular Amtrak service, which operates daily between Virginia and Boston, and the heavily traveled Empire Service (New York – Albany –Buffalo) and Keystone Service (New York – Philadelphia – Harrisburg, Pa.)

Other routes now with Wi-Fi include: Carolinian (New York – Charlotte), Downeaster (Boston – Portland), Ethan Allen Express (New York – Rutland, Vt.), the New Haven – Springfield Shuttle and Vermonter (Washington – St. Albans, Vt.)

Wi-Fi also is installed on four other routes as part of this expansion, but only in select cars marked with hotspot window stickers because these trains are made up of different types of equipment: Adirondack (New York – Montreal), Maple Leaf (New York – Toronto), Palmetto (New York – Savannah, Ga.), and Pennsylvanian (New York – Philadelphia – Pittsburgh.)

AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi service is already available on high-speed Acela Express trains in the Northeast Corridor and on the Amtrak Cascades service in the Pacific Northwest.

"The expansion of Wi-Fi further enhances the travel experience for passengers, giving them more options for entertainment or to do work while en route," says Vice President for Marketing and Product Development Emmett Fremaux. "We are committed to continuing to improve and expand this service as resources and technology allow."

While Wi-Fi service has long been a priority for Amtrak, the biggest obstacle to providing Internet connectivity on trains is the limited bandwidth on many routes, currently provided through third-party cellular data networks located along the tracks. Amtrak is exploring ways to expand that coverage through talks with cellular companies. Importantly, the AmtrakConnect technology is designed in a way that enables it to take advantage of technology improvements such as faster 4G speeds, as they become available along the routes.

"We're taking maximum advantage of the existing infrastructure to offer Wi-Fi service to our passengers," says Lenetta McCampbell, senior director of on board systems. "And we're poised to improve upon those offerings rapidly as the networks we tap into advance."

The next expansion of Wi-Fi will be on state-supported Amtrak services in California by the end of 2011, including on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquin trains. When that occurs, 75 percent of all Amtrak passengers will have access to on-board Wi-Fi.