St. Pancras Station, the new fancy high-speed rail hub in London, is now offering free Wi-Fi service. The station, which is used by the Eurostar and features among other things, Europe’s longest champagne bar, opened recently to the delight of frequent Eurostar travelers. Now they are outdoing other European train stations by offering free Wi-Fi.
I travel frequently in Europe and my experience with train station Wi-Fi has been negative. Most of the stations’ Wi-Fi service is run by the local incumbent and it usually charges a very high rate. Last May I founded myself in Berlin’s stunning new central station with a bit of time to kill before taking the train to Dresden. But when I tried to use the Wi-Fi network, Deutsche Telekom was asking for money — a lot of it — for the 15 to 20 minutes that I needed just to check email. At the Paris Gare du Nord and the Antwerp Central Station, it’s not much different. St. Pancras is doing the right thing since most people won’t be on the network for more than an hour and they’ll just be checking email or viewing web pages. It’s handy for people arriving in London who want to check a map for an address or a phone number.
So is St. Pancras’s decision to offer free Wi-Fi a sign of things to come for Europe’s central stations?
Disappointing Wi-Fi experience
John Dvorak wrote recently in his PC Magazine column about his disappointing Wi-Fi experiences and highlighted the sorry state of airport Wi-Fi. My experience with airport Wi-Fi has been quite negative too: expensive for the amount of time you are on the network coupled with convoluted login screens that take up what little time you have before boarding. Most people just want to check email and do a bit of work, and the problem is that although you might have a Boingo account that works in a couple of airports, it won’t work in others.
Wi-Fi service being used to attract passengers
Railway operators are now competing aggressively with airlines to attract passengers, especially in Europe with their extensive network of high-speed rail service. The TGV from Paris to Frankfurt now takes only 3.5 hours and provides Wi-Fi service to passengers (not free yet, although the Arriva trains in Denmark do offer free Wi-Fi). From Amsterdam to Paris, the train takes a little over 4 hours and will have Wi-Fi by the end of the year. The Paris-Brussels segment already has Wi-Fi. Not only is train travel far more relaxing compared to air travel (especially with security procedures, queues, weather issues, traffic to get to and from the airport), it is also now more efficient because the train takes you from one city center to another. You can eat, drink, work on your laptop or sleep and cut down on the consumption of fossil fuels.