Commuter using Wifi on a train

David Cameron has promised to spend £50m to provide free WiFi on trains from 2017 if the Conservative party wins the general election.

Internet access on trains is currently patchy. In some cases, passengers must pay to go online, or there may be no service, while lines such as First Great Western from Paddington offer free WiFi on long-distance trains.

Mr Cameron made the announcement during prime minister’s questions in response to Maria Miller, a Labour MP, who said passengers were “increasingly frustrated our trains are stuck in the analogue age”.

A Network Rail fine for missing punctuality targets will give £48m to put WiFi on a handful of services first. Network Rail owns and operates the UK’s rail infrastructure has been upgrading equipment to allow train operators to install faster WiFi.

Train franchises that will benefit first are the Thameslink commuter lines around the capital, Southeastern services into Kent, Chiltern trains up to Birmingham and Arriva trains in Wales.

The technology will be added to remaining train services as lines come up for refranchising, meaning that some passengers may have to wait until after 2017.

“It’s vital for businesses and for individuals to be able to access WiFi and do their work . . . while they are on trains,” Mr Cameron said.

“I am pleased to announce plans that will see the rollout of free WiFi on trains across the UK from 2017. The government will invest nearly £50m to ensure that rail passengers are better connected.”

The Campaign for Better Transport, a lobby group, said it welcomed the move: “WiFi is an increasing part of people’s daily lives and a big part of people’s daily lives is their commute.”

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