The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today announced a £200,000 government investment to develop a prototype that will improve mobile connectivity for rail passengers.

It could signal the end of internet blackouts leading to more productive rail journeys thanks to better wifi.

With over a third of the 11,000 miles of Great Britain’s railways electrified using overhead line equipment (OLE), research funded by the Department for Transport has found that it is possible to attach communications antennas to them, improving connectivity for passengers as well as reducing the need to build additional track-side masts.

The  technique that is already being used in countries such as Austria to address railway mobile connectivity challenges.

The government is now urging operators  to come forward and develop suitable equipment for the next phase of the trial which will test how antennas can be safely fixed onto OLE in a live railway environment.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “It is just not good enough that passenger’s mobile connectivity experience is still poor, blighting our efforts to work, shop and communicate on everyday journeys.

“By harnessing innovation and updating existing infrastructure, we can build the railway of tomorrow and find affordable solutions to improve travel for passengers. I urge telecom operators to match our ambition and we can commit to working closely together to design equipment and move forward in the next stage of this exciting trial.

Charlene Wallace, Network Rail’s director of passenger and customer experience, added: “We are keen to work with government and train and telecom operators to deliver more consistent and reliable mobile coverage that improves passengers’ journeys in an efficient and affordable way.

The department is now working with Network Rail’s Rail Innovation and Development Centres to identify a suitable OLE to conduct the trial by March 2021.