Wi-Fi to ride N.M. commuter rail

NM Rail Runner

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ALBUQUERQUE -- New Mexico plans to offer Wi-Fi service to passengers on its new commuter rail service, which will connect Belen to Santa Fe, said Roy Soto, the state’s chief information officer.

Soto said that although the state has not finalized details for the Wi-Fi service, he thinks it will be free. Albuquerque already offers free Wi-Fi service at the Sunport International Airport and on 12 Rapid Ride buses that serve the downtown area and the University of New Mexico.

Soto said Wi-Fi access points and bridges will provide Internet service to the RailRunner commuter train and will connect to the state’s fiber-optic network, which parallels the tracks.

This approach differs from other rail Wi-Fi services, such as the San Jose-Oakland corridor operated by Amtrak and supported by the California Department of Transportation. That service uses a broadband satellite to download a signal to the train and cellular phone circuits to handle lower bandwidth backhaul from the train.

Griff Lechner, an account manager at Cisco Systems, which provided equipment for the Rapid Ride bus service, said he expects to use a similar model for the train service. Multiple access points along the route will provide a signal to the train’s access points.

Mike French, southwestern regional vice president at InterNetwork Experts, said RailRunner passengers could get wireless Internet service via access points that connect to the state’s fiber-optic spine every half mile. That would require about 200 access points for the entire Belen-Santa Fe line. InterNetwork Experts helped integrate the Rapid Ride Wi-Fi system.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation announced this week that it expected to start the commuter rail service from Albuquerque to Bernalillo in June, with service to Belen to follow later this summer. The state anticipates that service to Santa Fe will begin in 2008.

Soto said the state plans to conduct a competition for the RailRunner Wi-Fi service, which will cause the wireless Internet service to lag behind the start of the rail service.

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