COMMUTERS in Leeds seem likely to be able to look forward to free wi-fi on trains as part of a joint initiative between the government, Leeds City Council, Northern Rail and the newly-formed West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
Economic development chiefs have been asked to formally sanction new partnerships which will see £750,000 spent on equipment to be installed on rolling stock used on the Wharfedale and Airedale lines between Leeds and Skipton, Ilkley and Bradford later this summer.
If approved, the service would go live in January 2015 and run for just over a year, ahead of a review of the Northern Rail franchise due in February 2016.
Leeds City Council’s executive board has already committed a grant from Broadband UK - the delivery arm of Department for Culture, Media and Sport - to cover the cost of the project under the umbrella of the Leeds Super Connected Cities project.
However, council officers have been warned swift decisions are now needed on what form the new partnerships will take - particularly if Northern Rail is to be given sufficient time for design ahead of installation, which must begin this month,
Once the design phase is complete, the equipment itself would be fitted to the trains between August and November this year, ahead of a live switch-on early in the new year.
A report to Leeds City Council’s chief economic development officer indicates there has already been a significant take-up of free wi-fi in other public places, such as around Millennium Square and in Briggate and on the 72 bus between Leeds and Bradford.
The authority has also indicated an interest in additional wi-fi equipment being fitted in street furniture to further enhance connectivity across the city.
However, once systems are installed on Northern Rail trains, it’s estimated an extra 13.5 million people would have access to free wi-fi every year.
Report author John Wilkinson adds: “In funding the provision of this service, the public sector hopes to deliver the benefits of enhanced connectivity to all passengers, enabling them to access online services, news and other content and allow greater productivity for business users,”
At present, the project does not include the rail route between the Leeds and Bradford interchange.
However, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority - set up in April to help co-ordinate transport and economic development initiatives across the region - has indicated it will also view the scheme as a pilot project.
If it proves successful, similar systems may also be developed on other passenger routes in both West and North Yorkshire.