Yes, Virginia. There is wifi aboard Amtrak and at Amtrak stations. However, all of us who travel with smart phones, tablets and computers close at hand need to know the limitations.
The good news: wifi is offered aboard many Amtrak trains and in most stations. Unlike some European trains where you, the tourist, must register an email address and pay a few euros to connect, wifi aboard Amtrak is free and easy for everyone.
The bad news? It’s not offered on all trains.
Amtrak continues to add and improve their wifi service, AmtrakConnect Wi-fi, to more trains. When I get frustrated because I can’t connect somewhere or if service is spotty, I remind myself that a train is a moving target and needs to be in areas where reception is possible. Similar to wifi on a ship…it’s only as good as the signal it receives…and how many people are logging in at the same time.
That’s primarily why you’ll find wifi offered on trains that operate east of the Mississippi River plus California’s Surfliner between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. Amtrak’s famous long-haul trains spend so much time in rural and mountainous parts of America that even mobile phones drop reception at times, let alone keep a solid wifi connection.
The only downside to using AmtrakConnect Wi-fi is that it doesn’t support high-bandwidth activities such as streaming music, streaming video or downloading large files.
Here are the trains where wifi aboard Amtrak is offered:
Several Amtrak stations offer wifi, however for now, those stations are all east of the Mississippi River.
- Baltimore, MD – Penn Station
- Boston, MA – South Station – available inside ClubAcela only
- Chicago, IL – Union Station
- Lorton, VA
- New York, NY – Penn Station – available in the gate areas and inside ClubAcela
- Philadelphia, PA – 30th Street Station – available in the gate areas and inside ClubAcela
- Providence, RI
- Sanford, FL
- Washington, DC – Union Station – available in the gate areas and inside ClubAcela
- Westwood, MA – Route 128
- Wilmington, DE – Wilmington Station
How to Connect to wifi aboard Amtrak using Amtrak Connect Network
Your device should automatically find the network, but if not:
- Under your list of available wireless networks, look for
- When onboard, “AmtrakConnect”
- When in the station, “AmtrakConnectStation”
- Select the network name
- Oper or refresh browser and you should see the AmtrakConnect welcome screen
- Click “I Agree. Get Connected” and it will take you to the internet
All four steps above must be completed to access the internet.
According to information furnished by Amtrak, “Our mobile Wi-Fi network relies on bandwidth provided by cellular carriers who have towers along our routes. The bandwidth available from these towers is limited and our speed may not match what you are used to receiving from stationary Wi-Fi networks such as your home or office. Engaging in web activities that use large amounts of bandwidth will negatively affect the online experience of other passengers. When using our network, please keep this in mind and be respectful of your fellow passengers.”
AmtrakConnect blocks access to streaming media and limits file downloads to 10MB. Amtrak recommends passengers download any necessary large files prior to boarding the train. AmtrakConnect also restricts access to web sites with objectionable content.
That’s all you need to do to connect to wifi aboard Amtrak. As you might expect there is no technical support available while traveling. However, if the network appears to be down, it’s a good idea to let the conductor know so the outage can be reported.
Like any open network that can be access without a pass code or login, it’s no more secure that what you’d find at Starbucks or a local library. \
Before you leave home
It’s always a good idea to download whatever you plan to watch, before you leave home. At the Acela Lounge in New York, I recently tried in vain to download 23 minutes of Big Bang Theory, which I had already purchased. Only 23 minutes and the wifi couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know that the limit for a download file was 10MB…the episode was just slightly over that number.
Amtrak is continuously looking for ways to add wifi on other trains. I’ll do an update on this article if/when that happens.