Caltrain aims to bring the office on board

New wireless service for commuters is scheduled to start next September

SAN CARLOS — Ben Dziuba, of San Francisco, is the just the type of commuter Caltrain wants to reach out and hold on to with its plan to offer high-speed Internet to riders in coming months.

Dziuba, a Web designer in Cupertino, said Monday that logging on during his commute down the Peninsula would save time in the morning, allowing him to check industry news before arriving at the office. “I would love for there to be wireless service on the train,” Dziuba said. The 45- to 50-minute commute would also give him a chance to check e-mails or do freelance work, he said.

If all goes well, the new service — successfully tested at the end of July — could be in trains by next September, offering riders free- and fee-based service for superior speeds, according to officials. Promoted by Caltrain as a chance to turn “commute time into office time,” full implementation is expected to cost about $3 million to $4 million, according to Mark Simon, special assistant to Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon.

Already basking in regular double-digit average ridership increases, Caltrain hopes offering Internet connectivity will continue adding riders and enhance service, Simon said. “Getting people to ride transit is about giving them a meaningful alternative to driving.”

Caltrain board member and San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill agreed, saying that if commuters can get an extra hour of work done sitting on the train, that’s an hour more they can spend with their children, at a ballgame or watching television.

“Wireless would be great,” said San Francisco resident Philip Levis, a regular Caltrain commuter and assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford. While he’s not planning to stop using Caltrain if wireless doesn’t happen, logging on would let him catch up on the news, Levis said.

If successful, Caltrain would be the first commuter train agency in the country to provide high-speed Internet, officials said. “There has long been a sentiment [at Caltrain] that if anywhere in the world out to provide high-speed, broadband Internet service it ought to be the train that runs through the heart of Silicon Valley,” Simon said.

Caltrain plans to launch its wireless service on one or two cars on each train, with the main focus on Baby Bullet services, officials said.

One side benefit is the technology may help Caltrain and commuters track trains using Global Positioning System, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

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