Indian Railways to provide WiFi

Indian Railways will be offering WiFi in three rakes of Howrah Rajdhani Express as part of a pilot project. The WiFi is satellite-based and is expected to be available from September 25, 2012. The project costs Rs. 6.3 crores (US$ 1.23 million).

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Should it really cost that much to provide WiFi? Would the service be free to the passengers, or will there be a charge? If there is a charge, this looks like a new revenue stream for the railways. But, people would be wary of anything provided by the government.

Thank god that this is not a April Fool’s joke.

Now before we get too excited about this, remember that this is a pilot project. These kinds of press releases and news items appear once in a while, everybody gets excited and nothing really happens after that. I hope this doesn’t end that way. Also whenever a government project comes along and involves money, we know what time it is: party time. Given the quantum of scams we have seen in the past two years, this isn’t even a blip on the radar.

Indian Railways has been in the news lately for use of technology. It started with accepting text messages as tickets. Later it has announced the availability of tracking trains in real-time using Google Maps. With free WiFi it seems to be in the line with few of its other initiatives. But it’s not. Real-time train tracking saves time, text messages as tickets save paper. Free WiFi? That’s another story.

But Why?

Instead of providing free WiFi or introducing bullet trains, Indian Railways will be better off in providing basic amenities, like clean toilets, compartments without rats and probably better food. Oh! Facility to charge the devices like mobile phones won’t be a bad idea (these are available, but are limited).

Free WiFi on a train at a cost of Rs. 6.3 crores seems to be a waste of money just like the proposed bullet train. Whoever wants an Internet connection on the go already travels with a smartphone or 3G dongle. Indian Railways isn’t doing anybody a favor with this project.