My thoughts on our Via rail trip

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.

BUT

The internet access sucked.

No internet for you, by Bob Goyetche.

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

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3 Comments

  1. Andrea Ross says:

    Given the complimentary bar service, Via1’s lack of internet connectivity might be a plus

  2. lol @Andrea

    I came back on Monday, Bob – wifi service was worlds better than on the Friday, but the connection was definitely slow and I did have to reconnect, but only a couple of times. To give you an idea, I kept timing out of Videotron’s email. Loved the train and VIA1 experience – even the food was good, especially when you compare with Air Canada fare – great leg room, nice to have plugs for my laptop, great to be able to glance out the window or have an actual conversation with someone (as opposed to the plane, where the vacuum like noise makes conversation difficult sometimes). See it as the possibility to stay somewhat connected, while being able to work very productively offline. In fact, I bet if I took the train for 5 hours every day, my offline productivity results would skyrocket 😉

  3. Some great discussion. I take the train periodically, usually between Toronto and Ottawa. I much prefer it to flying. I have found the wifi as Michelle describes it, slow but fairly persistent. The thing I find irksome is having to pay for it. On VIA 1 especially wifi access should be included in the fare (perhaps it is since I last rode up in first class).

    What I do is take my laptop and plan to do non-web work such as writing or coding (yeah, I still do some of that the slow way). If I can get online it is a bonus. I love that they have plugs so my battery doesn’t run low, and if I remember to bring along my iPod with my favourite Canadian Podcast Buffet episodes, I can close myself off and get lots of productive work done.

    The food I had in VIA 1 was excellent. For those who haven’t taken the train, if you book far enough in advance (a few weeks) you can get tickets for VIA 1 at slightly under the cost of a regular coach ticket. Sweet.

    Cheers,
    Connie

  4. […] to Toronto on VIA1 (first class train – veredict, the service is great, the wifi is a complete joke), attended Podcamp Toronto, stayed in town for an extra couple of days with Steve and Jeanine, and […]

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  1. […] to Toronto on VIA1 (first class train – veredict, the service is great, the wifi is a complete joke), attended Podcamp Toronto, stayed in town for an extra couple of days with Steve and Jeanine, and […]

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