Wireless Internet Now Aboard California Amtrak Trains

A sticker advertising Amtrak's new wireless internet service aboard the Pacific Surfilner in Santa Barbara County | Photo by Zach Behrens/KCET

Wireless internet. It has been the most requested feature for years, and last week - on Cyber Monday, no less - it arrived on three California Amtrak lines. In Southern California that means the 350-mile Pacific Surfliner, the second busiest route in the nation, has some happier riders.

The route with major stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo can take more than eight hours end to end (luckily, there's lots of ocean views). Officials are now hoping the free WiFi service entices more people to hop aboard.

"Adding another great onboard amenity like Wi-Fi makes travel by train even more attractive," said Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Managing Director David Kutrosky. "Our customers can now make their travel mode choice based on which mode is more productive or entertaining, soon making these trains the preferred means of interregional travel."

The three Wi-Fi-enabled routes, including the Capitol Corridor (Bay Area to Sacramento) and San Joaquin (Sacramento-Oakland-Bakersfield), carry 20 percent of Amtrak passengers nationwide. During the last fiscal year, more than 5.5 million passengers rode the routes, a 7.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to Amtrak. The routes are supported by the state, but operated by Amtrak.

The service called AmtrakConnect uses bandwidth via cellular towers along the routes, meaning speeds can sometimes be slow and may even drop out. Downloading files larger than 10MB and streaming video have been blocked to help maximize bandwidth, and some sites with "objectionable content" have been blocked.

California is served by a number of company-owned Amtrak trains but only one, the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle, carries WiFi. Other lines serving the state are the California Zephyr (Bay Area to Chicago), Southwest Chief (L.A to Chicago) and Sunset Limited (L.A. to New Orleans).