ON JANUARY 30, a Swedish high speed train will become the first in the world to offer passengers real-time internet access on the move. One Linx X2000 tilting trainset operating between Göteborg, Malmö and København has been fitted with a wireless communications network which can also support passenger information and train maintenance systems.
For a trial period passengers in first and business class are being offered free access. Linx Marketing Director Øyvind Rørslett says passengers are increasingly demanding on-board 'connectivity'. He hopes that fitting the fleet with on-board access to internet and e-mail will help Linx win traffic in the Scandinavian inter-capital market where rail journey times are slower than air. Rørslett says that first impressions have been 'very positive', and the speed of the service is comparable to a fixed broadband link.
Icomera Train Gateway uses a wireless local area network which meets 802·11b standards. This means it can work with built-in modems and wireless network cards on many personal computers and organisers. According to Icomera Chief Executive Michael Johansson, it is relatively slow and expensive to connect a laptop PC to the internet via a mobile telephone. Train Gateway offers a connection 10 to 15 times faster, at 25% of the cost.
Johansson says the best mobile phone network only provides 90% coverage on a typical Scandinavian route. Using two networks the coverage rises to 98·5% and with three there is 100%. However, even GSM cellular telephony is relatively slow, with a limited bandwidth. To increase capacity, Train Gateway uses multiple networks for upwards transmission and downloads from a satellite, giving broadband performance comparable to a fixed ADSL telephone link. For back-up a further communications overlay is provided by harnessing DAB and digital television transmitters. In tunnels, where the satellite is not available, the GSM links can be used both ways to prevent loss of connectivity. The single master server is connected to the satellite and GSM antennae, and feeds two relay units in each vehicle through a wireless LAN.
In a commercial application, passengers will be able to book internet access in advance, receiving an automatically-generated password printed on their tickets. Alternatively, they can buy it during the journey from the conductor, who will be provided with software to generate passwords as required. Icomera believes that four to nine GSM lines running in parallel would support 80 or more users per train at the same time. As far as the user is concerned, the communications platform is entirely transparent.
As well as the public internet service, the Train Gateway hardware is designed to support on-board passenger information and entertainment systems. A GPS location function enables the provision of real-time train position displays, and the conductor can send station stop messages to screens in each vehicle. It would also be possible to multicast a range of films for at-seat entertainment. This material could be cached on-board or downloaded via the internet as required.
With a communications link available continuously, Icomera is talking to train operators about other add-on functions. One priority is to link on-train monitoring and fault diagnosis to the maintenance depot systems. Another is to cut the scope for ticket fraud by enabling revenue collection staff to validate credit card transactions in real time, instead of storing data for later processing.
Icomera AB, Sweden