Free Wifi coming to Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline

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If you’ve ever been on the West Coast Mainline (the line between London and Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow) you’ll know the feeling of spotting of an open wifi network, only to log on to find that it is an outrageous four quid an hour. The good news this morning then is that it has been announced that wifi on the route is going free.

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The news comes as Virgin has concluded renegotiating its contract with the government for the franchise to operate trains on the line. This means that the company and the Department for Transport were able to bargain over what Virgin would pay, and what it would have to provide.

Amusingly, it appears that Richard Branson is trying to spin the free wifi (in whatever form it will take) as Virgin doing some good – when surely free wifi was a condition imposed on it by the DfT if the company wanted to continue operating the franchise? It seems hugely unlikely to me that Virgin turned up at the meeting and said “We’d like to make less money, please”. When I asked the press officer whose idea it was, he was very keen to move the conversation on.

Other improvements that have been promised as part of the contract renewal (that officially renews on June 22nd) includes more than £20m spent on further station improvements, an extra £430m for the Treasury, and one carriage in every train being converted from first to standard class (sorry, George Osborne).

Update (10:49): We can 100% confirm that wifi will be 100% free on trains as well as stations. It will apparently be the first major intercity deployment of 4G on the UK rail network.

James O’Malley