No WiFi on Texas Eagle or Sunset Limited?

Discussion in 'Guest Forum for Amtrak Questions' started by MEGHANSKOR, Sep 8, 2019.

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  1. Sep 8, 2019 #1
  2. Sep 8, 2019 #2

    Lonestar648

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    Lonestar648

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    There is no WiFi on the Texas Eagle nor the Sunset Limited. Cell coverage on the TE is acceptable most of the trip, but on the SL west of San Antonio there are areas of no coverage. Sending a text message is a one way data burst that may get through when sending a file like a photo will not complete. Looking out the window will pretty much tell you the type of cell coverage is available.
     
  3. Sep 8, 2019 #3

    ehbowen

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    There are portions of the Sunset Limited route in west Texas which look less hospitable than Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin's old neighborhood fifty years ago!

    (At least you don't need vacuum suits...but pray that nothing happens to the air conditioning!)
     
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  4. Sep 9, 2019 #4

    RSG

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    It's also worth noting that cellular coverage along many of Amtrak's routes is carrier-dependent, regardless of availability.

    AT&T is notoriously absent in large swaths of the interior West (notably in much of Nebraska) and in certain other pockets. I pity the fools who feel the need to be connected 23/6 (if not 24/7) and have chosen T-Mobile or Sprint (along with smaller carriers) as their provider only to find out "No Service" is the rule outside of urban areas or a few miles away from an Interstate highway.


    [Edited for grammar.]
     
  5. Sep 9, 2019 #5

    SarahZ

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    I learned this the hard way while trying to work on a midterm during my trip on the Empire Builder. I didn't have service across most of North Dakota and Montana. I ended up having to spend my first day in Seattle doing homework instead of sightseeing. :(
     
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  6. Sep 9, 2019 #6

    Devil's Advocate

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    I've carried Jump Pack hotspots on several Western routes and found T-Mobile to have nearly identical coverage as Verizon. Not looking forward to a tie-up with Sprint though. TMO has done a lot right and now they're going to throw it away to merge with a dumpster fire.
     
  7. Sep 9, 2019 #7

    bratkinson

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    Out west as well as on the route of the City of New Orleans and Capitol Ltd, cell phone coverage is very spotty except near towns with population larger than 100. Hence, no WiFi. Anderson has even gone so far as to have the 'spotty' WiFi on the Coast Starlight removed. My solution has been to download an App for my cell phone and its 'mate' for my laptop and turn my cell phone into a private hotspot whenever I can get a signal.
     
  8. Sep 9, 2019 #8

    Lonestar648

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    Our company found that Verizon had the best coverage because we typically stretched the limits of their coverage due to the project sites we had to go to. ATT offered lower costs, but our VP told them what good is your low cost plan if there is no coverage where the company needs it.
     
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  9. Sep 9, 2019 #9

    jebr

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    With the roaming agreements that T-Mobile, Sprint, and the smaller carriers have, I've found true "no signal" areas to be infrequent, even in rural areas. Sometimes they're talk/text only, but often data is included as well. I actually choose Sprint because they have the best mix of price, network, and roaming agreements for where I live and travel frequently. The ability to roam on US Cellular is wonderful when traveling in Iowa (which is at least an every-couple-months affair,) their coverage is adequate throughout my other semi-frequently-visited places (something I can't say for Verizon or T-Mobile,) and the plan I have with them is a stellar bargain.

    Unless someone travels to a lot of distinct, random rural places frequently, it's far better to choose a plan based on what works best (or has the best price/performance compromise) for where you spend most of your time, versus getting the one that's "the best nationwide" but might have glaring gaps for specific use cases. There's always the option of grabbing a hotspot for a month if travels necessitate using a different network for a specific trip.
     
  10. Sep 9, 2019 #10

    SarahZ

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    If you only travel a few times per year and don't want to pay to add a hotspot to your phone plan, check your local library. Mine lets you check out a mobile hotspot for up to two weeks, as long as you are 18+ and have an account in good standing.
     
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  11. Sep 9, 2019 #11

    Devil's Advocate

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    The US is a very large country and every provider hides access gaps in their national maps. This is why some customers use signal repeaters and service aggregators in rural locations. It's also why remotely powered twisted pair copper remains the gold standard for 911 access. Wireless and optical communication could and should be able to supplant twisted copper. The problem is that the uptime standards under which newer services operate are less strict and less dependable.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
  12. Sep 13, 2019 at 2:20 AM #12

    me_little_me

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    For email, use a local app for email. I can strongly recommend k-9 mail and configure the app to not remove the server copy of the email if you want to be able to save it when using your browser. With the app, you can download any messages then read them when there is no service and even reply to them (when service is available just resync to send the replies all together.
    I remember paying by the minute of connect time on cruises. Use to do that same thing so only connect time was during transmission, then I'd disconnect. I could read my email 5 times a day and send replies without ever using more than 10 minutes of connect time.
     
  13. Sep 13, 2019 at 4:37 PM #13

    drdumont

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    Most of the comments above are spot on. From a technical standpoint, I have found (after years of lower 48 travel), that despite all its many warts, Verizon has the best signal penetration overall. This is not a plug for them, they urinify me on a regular basis, but facts is facts.
    Out in the desert and other underpopulated areas, few companies have spent money so the prairie dogs can tweet. So turn off your device, sit back with a frosty one in hand and enjoy the scenery.
    Where the trains run along an Interstate, you will usually find coverage, as the cell companies caught on ages ago that people in cars want connectivity.
    As to Email clients, the main reason I eschew web based emails is because with a POP or SMTP based clientI can keep ALL messages on my computer for access whether on line or not.
    A very good tried and true Email client is called Thunderbird. It is a Mozilla product using POP (Post Office Protocol). (You don't need to be on line to read emails you have received previously). You can compose emails offline and send when you get a signal. And if you lose signal while composing, you can continue your work, and send when you regain connectivity.
    For my needs, I have Thunderbird on my tablets and cell phone, but they are set to read the mails but leave them on the server (somewhere connected to shore power and the Internet). When I log in with my computer, the mails are downloaded onto it and deleted from the server so as not to overflow the mailbox. Don't know if Thunderbird is available for Apple based devices, I only speak Android. Check Play Store or whatever Apple uses to purvey applications.
    GMail and Yahoo used to allow POP access to their accounts, but ISTR they may have stopped that, since POP mail clients don't show advertising. (Another reason for not using webmail based accounts).
    So when you lose signal, take it as a sign you need to turn off the device, grab a frosty one, sit back and enjoy the scenery.
    Hmmm... I already said that. Oh well...
    Hope this helps, sorry for the wordiness. It's the Professor in me, I guess.
    -- Yours for Better Television,
    -- Doc
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2019 at 9:33 AM
  14. Sep 13, 2019 at 8:24 PM #14

    Qapla

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    Before Amtrak had WiFi on the trains people were not near as concerned about having signal for their entire trip.

    What I did was, when we came into a town/city, I looked to see if there was a McDonalds or similar near the tracks. Most of those places have WiFi and the train was usually travelling slow enough I could connect to the WiFI, d/l my emails and read them while off-line. Then, if I needed to reply to something, I again looked for a WiFi signal, logged on and sent them before I lost signal.

    Wasn't perfect - but, for the most part, worked just fine.
     
  15. Sep 14, 2019 at 12:36 AM #15

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    When will Amtrak add wiFi to the Superliners? Is it a feature they have to add to the car itself? And if so, is Amtrak at the stage where they probably won't bother since the Superliners are probably past their shelf life?
     
  16. Sep 14, 2019 at 1:59 AM #16

    Duane Witte

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    In order to have reliable wi-fi on most superliner trains it would have to be satellite based due to spotty cellular signals along most western routes. That would be an expense I don't think Amtrak can afford right now
     
  17. Sep 14, 2019 at 3:33 AM #17

    Devil's Advocate

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    Satellites have wide reach but they also come with high latency and limited throughput. These traits are generally unsuitable for most consumer communication other than emails and text messages. If Amtrak was serious about providing useful connectivity they'd install external cellular antennas connected to aggregating service routers on 3G and 4G bands.
     
  18. Sep 14, 2019 at 4:04 AM #18

    drdumont

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    Satellite Wifi - High latency. Terrible unless that is your only option. Like the ugly girl in the bar at 0200. Last resort.
    Depending on WiFi from trackside emporia? Not an option.
    Do yourself a favor. Sign up your cell phone or tablet for use as a hotspot. Or get one of those standalone hotspots from your provider. Or rent one. You will not regret it.
     
  19. Sep 14, 2019 at 11:10 AM #19

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    How about the Capitol Limited? They share the LSL route between CHI and CLE and CLE and PGH at least should be decent service? It should be worthwhile on that route? A lot of the Coast Starlight is through California, service should be available there. They shouldn't need satellite for those routes. If they can put wiFi on the Cardinal which goes through the middle of nowhere West Virginia they should be able to put what's on the Cardinal on at least some of the Superliner routes (sure, the Empire Builder is through the middle of nowhere through 3/4 of the route so it wouldn't make a difference).
     
  20. Sep 14, 2019 at 2:49 PM #20

    Duane Witte

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    Between Chicago and Pittsburgh yes you should have reliable service because it goes through a more densely populated region. The Cardinal may have wifi going through middle of nowhere West Virginia but how well does it work?
    A lot of the Coast Starlight route may be in California, however fro north of Sacramento to Portland service would probably be spotty at best due to mountainous terrain. The OP was asking about the Sunset Limited/ Texas Eagle. In the areas that those trains run through you will not get consistent reliable cell signals and if you do the bandwidth will not be there for public wifi. There simply is not enough people out there for the providers to justify the expense of building towers. I live within 20 miles of Kansas City 4 miles off the interstate and no cell provider has good enough signal coverage for me to stream video without a lot of buffering or sometimes even send a picture via text and I can forget about setting my phone up as a hotspot to use my laptop. I have to go to town for that. Now imagine you are in a moving vehicle going through areas less populated than where I am. As drdumont said you are better off getting a personal hotspot for when you travel. I'm going to Albuquerque from KC next month and I plan on watching the landscape roll by or reading a book. I will probably even turn my electronics off while on the train. Amtrak has a hard time right now keeping equipment running, don't you think they should focus on repairing/ replacing what they have rather than adding amenities that really aren't IMHO needed by the majority of their passengers in this day and age of unlimited data plans and smart phones that will do virtually everything a computer will do?
     
  21. Sep 14, 2019 at 11:09 PM #21

    bratkinson

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    Actually, Amtrak has REMOVED WiFi on the Coast Starlight. It was there 2 years ago, gone sometime before I rode it this past April. WiFi on the Starlight had been a simple mobile hotspot in the lounge car substituting for the PPC 3 years ago. 2 years ago, it was in the sleepers and there was a sign in the corridor at the coffee station indicating the name and password. Last April...gone!

    When will Amtrak put it in the Superliners? Sometime after Anderson is gone, if at all. As noted by posters above, out west, cellphone coverage is nearly non-existent between small and larger towns. This past Summer on #2, I simply used my cellphone as a hotspot at major cities until I was looking at nothingness and it faded out. I did the same on the Empire Builder as well.

    Will Amtrak pick up the tab to put cellphone hotspots along the rights of way of BNSF and UP? Probably not. Given Andersons' desire to get rid of LD trains, probably never.

    As for the Cardinal, earlier this year, I had WiFi most of the way, except a couple of no signal in West Virginia, but it came alive in various small towns. After Indianapolis where I woke up, I had Wifi all the way to Chicago.

    And the Capitol Ltd...I haven't ridden it lately, but I'll be on it CHI-WAS this coming Thursday. If I remember, I'll update my reply. I halfway think it is available CHI-PGH, but don't quote me on it. PGH to WAS, non-existent. I used my cell phone hotspot in Cumberland as long as I could, and then after Harpers Ferry to WAS.
     
  22. Sep 16, 2019 at 5:33 AM #22

    John Santos

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    In a year or two, SpaceX's Starlink low altitude satellite system should be available to the public. O3B and other systems should be available not long after. The ground stations and antennas are too big for personal use (about the size of a pizza box, I think), but would be ideal for a local WiFi hotspot on a ship, train or bus, and I suspect that will be one of the first big uses of the systems. It will probably be too expensive for Amtrak to install when it is first available, but I suspect it will be relatively cheap and customers will demand it in about 5 years. So by 2025, every Amtrak train and most other forms of mass transportation (buses, ships, ferries, commuter rail, etc.) will have WiFi with a GB of bandwidth. Cell phones of that era should be able to place calls and send/receive texts via VOIP and WiFi. (Actually, any existing smart phone should be able to do this since it's just a matter of programming, not hardware. Or use Skype.) Of course, people will still complain about speed and latency and bandwidth contention and bad performance of their 4K videos and games...
     
  23. Sep 16, 2019 at 7:22 AM #23

    Devil's Advocate

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    I'd take the over on that bet. Out here on the LD network Amtrak has been removing connectivity. It's true that the NEC received a major upgrade but I'd imagine any further upgrades would be dependent on the functional lifespan of the most recently installed hardware and expiration of the related service contract.
     

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