On track for train-based internet

York University researchers aim to transform the on-board entertainment and internet access enjoyed by train passengers.


Researchers in York University’s department of electronics have overcome two of the major technological challenges that severely limit the services currently provided on trains.


To offer internet services in any location, trains need to be equipped with a dish, or ‘reflector’, that transmits to and receives signals from an orbiting satellite.


Presently, this is only possible on a relatively small number of routes where there is sufficient headroom between the carriages and tunnels or overhead cables.


Using alternative technology to satellites results in reduced bandwidth and patchy geographical coverage.


A dome-like ‘lens’, which is much lower in height, is an alternative to a dish but these have previously been very expensive to make and less effective at receiving signals.


But now, Dr John Thornton, a research fellow at the university, has developed a much simpler version using common plastics that outperform those currently available.


The team led by Thornton has also invented a system that will allow a single lens to track more than one satellite at a time, offering train operators increased reliability and the opportunity to offer passengers a broader range of services.


Thornton said: ‘There is a growing expectation among consumers that they should be able to enjoy access to the internet and other media wherever they are.


‘Our research should make it far easier for train operators to offer a broader range of internet and live media services in many more locations and at a lower cost.’


The research conducted at the university has been supported by a grant from the European Space Agency.


Work is now underway to find a commercial partner to take it forward.