Why you might have Wi-Fi on your Metra train soon
Rejoice cautiously, smartphone users -- Metra is inching toward a Wi-Fi solution with a pilot program on 10 rail cars debuting later this year.
The railroad has talked about offering Wi-Fi for at least four years but logistical and cost roadblocks keep cropping up.
Friday, officials said they hope to install free Wi-Fi on select cars before Jan. 1 to test out its dependability. The experiment will cost $35,000.
Metra has tried to attract Wi-Fi providers to provide service at no cost but with no luck so far. If the pilot program works, the agency will seek outside funding or sponsors to add more Wi-Fi cars, Executive Director Don Orseno said.
Putting Wi-Fi in individual cars is more feasible and less expensive than a systemwide approach. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is trying a similar program on the South Shore Line, which gave Metra the idea, spokesman Michael Gillis said.
With 11 train lines and about 1,000 cars, 10 cars are just the beginning but Metra intends to rotate the test.
"Obviously it's on a small scale," Gillis said. "We're just testing it at this point. We're trying to find if this route can provide a level of service that works for most people" and Metra can afford, he added.
Riders should realize dead zones will likely pop up and heavy use of Wi-Fi, such as streaming video, could impair service.
Riders will be notified how to find cars with hot spots and are asked to give feedback on their experiences.
The railroad is also adding charging stations to its five downtown station along with free Wi-Fi hot spots.