Under the slogan “Life is Hard. The Train is Easy,” Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District serves more than 7,000 riders each day in Northwestern Indiana, 95 percent of whom are commuting to work in downtown Chicago. Monday through Friday, NICTD’s South Shore Line operates 43 trains along an 19-station route that spans more than 90 miles.
In 2014, still aiming to make passenger Wi-Fi happen, the management team at NICTD took a DIY approach. “Passenger satisfaction is an important consideration for us, so we decided to provide connectivity ourselves and make that a free service for our passengers.”
The foundation of this new service for train riders is the Digi TransPort® WR44R, a compact, mobile-access LTE router that scales to provide Internet access for up to 120 clients while simultaneously maintaining secure priority links for onboard systems. A configurable splash page requires first-time users to accept the agency’s Internet policy and enables the transit agency to promote popular or promotional websites.
Digi’s unique device-health reports built on the Digi Device Cloud SaaS platform provide remote system-level and device-specific charts that show fundamental performance metrics such as uptime, signal level/quality, and network response time. Optional transparent integration with third-party content filtering and embedded in-browser content messaging keeps out unwanted content and provides a path for network monetization. Finally, the Digi TransPort® WR44R’s 50-channel high-performance GPS receiver delivers reliable service, even in tough urban environments, supporting location-based applications.
“I’ve known Digi for a long time and have always found that their products are super-reliable,” Matakovic said. “So we decided to try a pilot program on 10 of our 82 cars, and it has worked very well.”
NICTD has chosen not to throttle its bandwidth. “We didn’t want the additional task of managing that,” he explained. “Bandwidth consumption is a self-correcting issue, and we haven’t had any significant issues with that. We send all of our traffic through AT&T and never have to worry about it.
“And it’s a pleasure to work with Digi. They’ve given us lots of support and it’s great to be working with people who know what they’re doing.
According to Matakovic, the Wi-Fi-equipped trains have quickly become popular among passengers. “It’s only in about 12 percent of our cars, but we have decals on those trains that say “Wi-Fi-Equipped” – and passengers will very deliberately hunt and look for those cars so they can use their commuting time productively. It makes the time go by much faster when you can be answering email or even taking care of personal business online.”
The Digi pilot program has been so popular, that NICTD is moving forward with full implementation of the Digi WR44R across all 82 cars. “We’ve made the commitment to bring Wi-Fi to our entire fleet, and all of our passengers will have no-cost Internet access at all times,” said Matakovic. “As people start to realize that they can get on the train and get meaningful work done, the value of a ticket on our transit line increases significantly.”