Traincomms News from BWCS

RailRunner Shoots for the Stars in WiFi Upgrade

Wednesday 6 Dec 2023

The New Mexico RailRunner has become the latest train service to switch to satellite-delivered connections for its passenger Internet service. WiFi has been available on board since 2010, but now the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which operates the service, says it is time for an upgrade.

Ten RailRunner trains a day cover the 100-mile route from Belen to Santa Fe, stopping at 13 stations along the way. Previously, passenger Internet requirements on board were met by a 22 base-station, WiMax system, installed by AzulStar and provided by Alvarion. However, commuter complaints about intermittent service had sparked a rethink and the operator began “rigorously trialling” Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service less than 12 months ago.

Last month, prior to launch, the State’s Mid-Region Council of Governments released a statement acknowledging the improvement in Internet service reliability on the trains and declaring that it would enhance the overall travel experience for passengers.

The cost of the upgrade has been put at US$500,000 with a further US$300,000 in annual maintenance fees. The Rio Metro team has been actively seeking out passenger feedback on the new system and reports, so far, have been positive, it says.

RailRunner’s decision to go with Starlink, follows announcements from Ukrainian Railways, Lithuanian Railways and new US train operator Brightline that they all plan to use or trial its satellite-delivered Internet connectivity.

Starlink says it can deliver high-speed, low-latency Internet connections to users all over the world. This is made possible via its constellation of over 4,000 satellites operating in a low orbit of only 550km above the Earth, compared to 35,786km for geostationary satellites. It also says it can provide a seamless connection even in the most rural areas and all along most train tracks.

The pros and cons of using Starlink and other LEO satellite-delivered broadband services to trains were discussed at BWCS’ recent Traincomms Conference in London – speakers and sponsors are already signing up for 2024!

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