Free wifi on trains at risk in bid to improve profits
Free wifi on trains faces the axe under government cost cutting plans to repair the battered finances of Britain's railways.
The Department for Transport has told train companies to stop offering free internet coverage unless they can prove that it boosts business.
It comes as the Government seeks to wean the industry of billions of pounds in state subsidies and address budget shortfalls post-Covid.
The industry relied on £13.3bn of government funding to stay afloat in its most recent financial year, according to figures from the Office of Rail and Road. Spending still outstripped income by £1.5bn across the industry.
A DfT spokesman said: “Our railways are currently not financially sustainable, and it is unfair to continue asking taxpayers to foot the bill, which is why reform of all aspects of the railways is essential.
“Passenger surveys consistently show that on-train wifi is low on their list of priorities, so it is only right we work with operators to review whether the current service delivers the best possible value for money.”
A Transport Focus report, which was based on a survey of more than 15,000 passengers and published in December, found that wifi on trains was of lower priority for ticket holders than value for money, reliability, punctuality and personal security.1102 train prices from london 
However, Bruce Williamson, of RailFuture, a passenger campaign group, said the policy was short-sighted.
Mr Williamson said: “All this is going to do long-term is make rail less attractive, and maybe put people off travelling by train at all. It might even be counterproductive for that reason."
Speaking on the Calling All Stations podcast, which first reported that wifi was under threat, host Christian Wolmar criticised the policy for taking away a benefit that the taxpayer has already paid for. He said axing wifi would push commuters to travel by car instead.
Network Rail was fined £50m for late trains in 2014 and the money was used to fund a range of passenger benefits, including boosting the rollout of wifi on trains at a cost of £90m.
Mr Wolmar said: “We, the passengers and the taxpayers, have paid for this already.”
Much of the wifi network on trains was installed in 2015 and now requires updating or replacing.
Mr Wolmar said: “It is so illustrative of the wrong type of thinking.”
He added: “I think Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, is an accountant, and this is a typical accountant’s view of the world… Anybody who knows anything about the railways or goes on any train will see that everybody is on their devices and they want a continuous signal.”
- ^ battered finances of Britain's railways. (www.telegraph.co.uk)
- ^ billions of pounds in state subsidies (www.telegraph.co.uk)
- ^ currently not financially sustainable (www.telegraph.co.uk)
- ^ 1102 train prices from london (cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk)