If you recall, Via Rail sent a bunch of us to Podcamp Toronto using their Via-1 service, so we could talk about it and the internet access available on the train.
First of all, let me say that I absolutely LOVED traveling by train. Downtown Montreal to Downtown Toronto, no cars, no airport delays, no taxi-ing for 45 minutes while the plane tries to find the terminal at Pearson. Throw in great service and smiling employees, and I’m a pretty happy guy.
The service was friendly and top-notch, the food and drink were great, and the conversations thought-provoking.
The internet access sucked.
If we weren’t expecting to be online, this trip would have been rated 100% on all counts. But, we expected to be online. The ads, the wifi signs, everything pointed to a trip with a usable online experience.
Here’s a simple fact of life people who live online deal with everyday: “Bad internet is worse than NO internet.” We’re used to being able to plan our crossings with access points, coffee shops, unsecured “dlink” connections (hehe..).. If we know we’ll be away from the ‘net for a few hours, we’re able to plan accordingly, but if we think there will be be net access somewhere, our work ends up planned that way. Take that away, and it’s quite frustrating.
From what I understand of the technology, the data is inbound via satellite and outbound by cellular. This sounds really complicated, until you realize that making it work isn’t part of the criteria. Then, it all becomes quite simple.
On the way in, it worked, although very spotty, for the first hour or so, then pretty much nothing for the rest of the 6 hour trip. On the return trip, we had no expectations of access, and those expectations were met. However, we were on the new train, which was just beautiful.
I understand VIA is a train service provider, and not a telecomm company, but here’s some advice – Pull the “Wifi” signs and ads until you get a telecomm provider that can deliver. You’re doing yourself a disservice by having people think they can have access to the net on the train.
I considered coming back on monday instead of sunday, thinking that I could be online and get some work done, but after friday’s trip, I realized it’s not a workable option.
One last word to VIA Rail: you offer an exceptional travel experience with VIA-1, drop the internet claims (Airplanes don’t have wifi yet either) and keep the train service competitive.
Would I consider using the train to get to Toronto again? ABSOLUTELY! I really loved it..
But i’ll plan to be offline when I do..
Update Feb 24– apparently those who traveled back monday and tuesday saw much better internet access. While encouraging, it doesn’t really change the fact that I wouldn’t rely on it. -BG