Rail connectivity progress stalls
Written by: Charlotte Hathway | Published:

The National Infrastructure Commission has warned that progress on mobile connectivity on rail has stalled since the government accepted the findings of its 2016 Connected Future report.

In its new report on the progress of its recommendations – Connected Future: Getting back on track – the Commission found that a lack of leadership from government, frequent ministerial changes, and split departmental responsibilities have halted any initial momentum in steps to improve passenger access to mobile services.

As a result, the Commission says the gap between an increasingly connected society and a disconnected railway could become even more stark. In contrast, road users have benefitted from ‘clear, continuous progress’ on connectivity, with UK motorways now offering near universal coverage for voice and data calls and good progress elsewhere across the roads network.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, commented, “We’re all used to having mobile access on the move but for many passengers, loss of coverage while on the train occurs with frustrating regularity. In too many areas our rail infrastructure seems stuck in the digital dark ages. As coverage improves elsewhere, people will find it increasingly frustrating that it doesn’t extend to the railway. It would be like finding that the railway only accepts cheques for payment and not debit cards or contactless.”

The Commission has identified four areas that require attention to solve this mismatch. These are:

  • Leadership and action – the Department of Transport must appoint a ministerial lead and publish a clear plan of action.
  • Access to trackside land – Network Rail must put in place arrangements for third party access to trackside land for the purposes of delivering the trackside connectivity network.
  • Commercial barriers – government should set out plans for a competitive process for delivering connectivity improvements on specific routes, building on lessons from the active trials currently taking place.
  • Filling evidence gaps – to ensure progress is tracked and consumers are kept updated, Ofcom should regularly report on the extent and quality of mobile coverage on the railways.

Armitt added, “Government has dropped the ball on this issue and passengers will expect it to get a firm grip and find a solution. It must set out clear plans for delivering railway connectivity and giving passengers the reassurance they need.”

The full report can be accessed here.

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