The German government has promised free Internet access for all passengers travelling with national rail operator Deutsche Bahn. But the company is cautious about its only shareholder's ambitious plan.
German Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt said Tuesday that passengers on the trains of national rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) would in future enjoy Internet access across Germany.
Ultra-fast web access and mobile communication should be free of charge, Dobrindt told German mass circulation daily newspaper Bild.
Dobrindt also said the promise was part of a "modernization initiative" by the government aimed at making the national railway more attractive compared to private competitors such as bus services and budget airlines.
Deutsche Bahn is wholly owned by the German government. Currently, only 10 high-speed ICE trains, serving about 3,000 km of track, allow passengers to log onto a pay-as-you-go wireless hotspot for a charge of 4.95 euros ($6.37) a day. By the end of the year, DB wants to equip all of its 255 ICE trains with so-called "rolling hotspots" for Internet use.
As regards making broadband services available for free, DB Chief Executive Rüdiger Grube was reluctant to fully embrace the government's initiative.
"I don't want to make a promise which I'm not sure I can keep afterwards," he told journalists at the Innotrans rail trade fair currently being held in Berlin.
Grube also said that relevant services were still in a "testing phase," and pointed to DB's own blueprint for digitalizing railway services.
Under DB plans, regional and commuter trains are to be equipped with wireless web access by the end of 2015. In addition, the 24 busiest train stations of 120 that currently offer Wi-Fi access will be upgraded to broadband standards over the next few months. However, DB operates about 5,600 train stations across Germany.
In the blueprint, DB noted that expansion of Internet access services must be both "technically feasible and commercially viable." Internet access in Germany was "rather patchy" and in some rural areas "insufficient" to allow speedy Internet access.
uhe/nz (dpa, AFP)