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July 17, 2012

Wi-fi still not a success on the Trinity Railway Express - but officials are workin' on it


Nearly six years ago, the Trinity Railway Express was among the first passenger rail lines in the United States to begin installing a wireless online system for its customers - but service since that time has been spotty.

The commuter rail line, which is co-owned by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (the T) and Dallas Area Rapid Transit - may have let the proverbial train leave the station before the technology was ready.

However, officials now say they can fully launch a more reliable wi-fi service by next year, if the agency's board as well as DART leadership agree to commit additional funds to the project beginning in October.

"TRE has been exploring new technologies and has found that they will work," said T spokeswoman Joan Hunter, adding that the TRE partners hope to fully unveil the new wi-fi system in 2013. "Tests have been conducted on TRE trains since March and feedback from rider surveys has been positive."

TrewifiIn the meantime, TRE riders can enjoy wi-fi in selected rail cars, as the partner agencies continue to test their equipment. Regular riders know to look for the logos on the sides of certain trains that read "TRE Wi-Fi Test Car."

The issue could be discussed Wednesday during an overview of the TRE's preliminary 2013 budget at the T's regular board meeting in Fort Worth, although the wi-fi project itself isn't a specific agenda item.

In October 2006, TRE hired 4G Metro to install the wireless system along the 34-mile route. The work was done at no cost to the T or DART, as the vendor was supposed to sell access as well as advertising to the captive audience on the trains.

But technical and other problems plagued the rollout, and the service was ended last year.

This year, TRE brought in a new wireless network, which it has been testing in-house since March. The results are far better, based on surveys conducted with TRE riders.

Full implementation of a wi-fi system that could be used by essentially any TRE rider would cost roughly $100,000 in capital start-up costs, plus about $25,000 a year in operating expenses, according to a report prepared for a TRE committee in June by Hensen Strategies.

"The pilot test that began in March 2012 has been on two cab cars and two coaches which operate primarily during a.m. and p.m. peak periods for on average about 20 to 30 train runs a day," Hunter said. "The car numbers are coach cars 1059 and 1062 and cab cars 1006 and 1009."



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