Stuck on the train – go on line? WTF

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce has called for the roll-out of wireless broadband access on public transport including Dart, buses and commuter trains to support the development of Dublin as a ‘knowledge city’.

Frankly, speaking as a regular long haul commuter (Wexford to Dublin by train or bus, hail rain or shine), this is just nuts.

The investment necessary to achieve this would be far better spent developing some form of ‘knowledge worker hubs’ in what are currently satellite dormer towns and villages within the East coast commuter belt (which stretches now to Wexford Town). This would reduce the need for people to commute, support development of local communities, support the nuturing of relationships and families etc.

Sticking wifi on the Wexford to Dublin train would not work (and I suspect similar reasons would apply on other commuter routes).

Firstly, there are quite large stretches of the line where there is no mobile access (and I’m not talking spanky 3g here, I’m talking ‘hello, I’m on the train’ phone call territory). So that creates a technical challenge to create a network that will actually work and let people do things on the train. Secondly the train in the morning is pretty much full from Gorey up (people were standing from Wicklow this past Monday).

So the social impact of fishing out a laptop is not to be underestimated as you would inevitably have to smack the person next to you in the head with it (I’ve taken to using my pda to make notes on the train using my spanky bluetooth keyboard to avoid such faux pas). Also, the tables on current commuter trains are tiny and are actually too small to use a laptop on without taking up ALL of the table (again, PDA and small foldy keyboard work OK). For those times when I absolutely have to use my laptop to send/receive email or such like I have a mobile broadband dongley thing from vodafone which meets my needs (until I hit ‘dark territory’ on the route when all bets are off and I just read a book).

There is of course some spanky technology about that, to an extent, solves the problems of maintaining connectivity when on/in a moving target (actually, the mobile broadband stuff does this reasonably well in my experience using it on the 002 bus to/from Dublin or the aforementioned train). But the issues of network black spots, managing contention, and the physical challenges of actually working on a overcrowded train would take a lot of investment in infrastructure to overcome.

What is the cost/benefit analysis for this? Is there a better mix that would deliver greater benefit overall?

As a commuter, I’d much rather have the investment that this would require spent on developing and promoting knowledge economy industries in areas such as the South East, promoting broadband availability to regions (through telcos or local providers), developing integrated ticketing for public transport, increasing capacity, frequency and comfort on commuter rail and generally raising public transport to a point where it is actually possible to work on the train. Reducing the cost of public transport to the passengers would also be a good investment. I already have the level of wireless broadband connectivity I need for working as I travel to Dublin.

And let’s not forget the terrorist risks, as highlighted by the Steven Seagal movie Under Seige 2, where a terrorist uses a train as a mobile platform to wreak havoc and destruction – using a wireless network connection (where did I put that mobile broadband dongle?).
Come to think of it, there was a network blackspot as a major plot point in that movie as well.

6 thoughts on “Stuck on the train – go on line? WTF”

  1. I’ve had the opposite experience commuting from the north side of the city (Drogheda-> Dublin) on the Train and the M1 (Bus).

    Coverage is excellent, and has improved vastly in speed (from GPRS -> 3G) over the last 12 months. Only blackspot is about 500m when you are passing Malahide.

  2. Paul,

    Impressive coverage. Does Steven Seagal hang off the side of your train just in case anyone is tempted to do a bit of hacking? 😉

    I think the main difficulty on the Rosslare/Wexford to Dublin route and on the equivalent bus route is topography and coverage – the train goes through the Wicklow mountains in an area that is quite hilly and is a good bit from the route of the N11 (which has decent coverage) and has bad mobile coverage at the best of times.

    In Wexford there is an ‘alleyway’ of zero mobile coverage as you come down the R742 from Gorey into Wexford just north of Wexford town. Even at that, I find myself stuck on GPRS for a lot of the journey south of Gorey even before the ‘dark territory’.

    But the fact that you can get such good coverage does support my point that there are already workable solutions for the people who WANT to be able to check email etc. while commuting so why should money be wasted building a vanity project when the same investment could do much more if spent in other areas.

  3. I have to agree with Paul’s coverage experience, I used to use Vodafone 3G on the Drogheda train with fairly decent results ( until I had my laptop and 3g card nicked … another story).

    Unfortunately the utility of connectivity was limited to either my morning commute ( Laytown is the second station so I used to get a seat ) or out of rush hour train journeys. Getting on the Drogheda train any time even remotely near rush hour means standing for 50 minutess and even holding a cute little mini notebook, connected or not, would be impractical 🙁

    These days I stick to my blackberry which has excellent email coverage, flat rate data and while it’s a bit too slow for browsing is quite nifty at pulling down RSS feeds and reading while standing.

    I agree with Daragh that rather than spending a fortune on adding wireless to trains, avoid the journey completely by developing the satellite hubs to enable telecommuting or even better still encourage decentralized ( no smart comments !) investment and job creation.

  4. Hi,

    I have recently started the Wex/Dub commute, i am currently using the train and as you mention find it workable outside of peak hours. I’m using an 02 modem at the moment and get hit by the blackspots in coverage , do you have any experience with Vodafone , if so , is the coverage any better.

    Any other commuting tips would be appreciated. I’m enjoying the extra time at the moment and the train is not so bad, especially as seating is not a problem getting on at Wexford,


    1. I’ve found vodafone to be reasonably good to use on the train. There are still blackspots and areas of bare GPRS though. I can’t comment re voda vs O2 or 3 though.
      Other tips? Seats at the ends of the carriages usually have the power sockets, but some carriages have sockets under the tables in the middle. Also, a decent netbook is easier to fit on the stupidly narrow tables than a full blown laptop and should have more than enough battery power for the full journey (I usually travel with both and use to keep files synched).

  5. Thanks for the hints Daragh i was wondering about power points, found them last night after your suggestion. Appreciate the feedback.


Comments are closed.