Amtrak passengers will be able to catch up on email and surf the web while riding trains through Michigan starting next year.
The Michigan Department of Transportation is spending about $1 million to install Wi-Fi by January. MDOT anticipates the service will lead to increased ridership and revenues that should more than offset the cost, said spokesman Nick Schirripa.
Amtrak, which receives state and federal subsidies, has three routes in Michigan: The Blue Water stops in East Lansing, Kalamazoo and seven other cities on its way from Port Huron to Chicago; the Pere Marquette runs from Grand Rapids to Chicago; and the Wolverine travels through Pontiac, Detroit Ann Arbor, Jackson, Kalamazoo and several other cities on its way to Chicago.
“The installation of Wi-Fi service on Amtrak trains in Michigan makes passenger rail travel more attractive, efficient and productive throughout the state,” Tim Hoeffner, director of the Michigan’s rail office, said in a statement. “We are proud Michigan is the first Midwestern state to offer Wi-Fi service on all its Amtrak lines.”
Passengers will be restricted from streaming videos and downloading files larger than 10MB in order to maintain service for all users.
About 75 percent of Amtrak passengers already have access to free Wi-Fi, and more service should be added in the coming months.
Michigan’s funding for Amtrak is slated to increase to $25.2 million in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, up from $8 million this fiscal year, according to Bridge Magazine. The $1 million for Wi-Fi is coming from the rail portion of the 2013 comprehensive transportation fund, not the 2014 budget.
A record-setting 793,000 people traveled on Amtrak’s three routes in Michigan last year, while revenue grew to $27.8 million.
Amtrak board member Tom Carper spoke about the rail service at the Michigan Rail Conference at Lansing Community College’s West Campus on Tuesday.
“The demand for service is greater than it’s ever been,” he said, noting factors such as teenagers aren’t rushing to get their driver’s licenses like they used to do.