Caltrain steams ahead with onboard wireless

Transportation agency earmarks $1M for high-speed mobile Internet system

SAN JOSE — Driving to be the first commuter train agency in the nation to deliver wireless high-speed Internet to riders, Caltrain on Thursday approved $1 million for the first phase of the plan.

Intended to start service in 12 to 18 months, wireless access is expected to cost the train agency $3 million to $4 million initially, but add to the growth it has already seen in ridership.

Internet access would be a welcomed service for riders like Ben Dziuba, a Web designer, who said logging on during his 45 to 50 minute commute from San Francisco to Cupertino would save him time in the morning and allow him to check industry news before arriving at the office.

Thursday’s unanimous vote by Caltrain board members, who held their once annual meeting in San Jose, earmarked the $1 million to be spent on wireless services, but no contract has been approved yet, officials said.

“The who, how and what are still unanswered,” said Caltrain board member and Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill. By that he meant that major questions remain such as who will run the services. whether it will be free, fee based or a combination and what exactly the service will include, Hill said.

“We’re going forward with the plan and project and the $1 million is the first step in trying to narrow down some of those answers,” Hill said.

While other train agencies in the country are also working to provide wireless Internet, Caltrain hopes to be among the first, given its strong connection to Silicon Valley.

“Given the nature of the people who live and work in the area, and given the tech savviness of our riders, this better work right because they’re not going to have a lot of patience if it isn’t a genuine service to them,” said Mark Simon, special assistant to Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon.

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

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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