Having problems with Wi-Fi on Amtrak trains? Here's how to (probably) fix it

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 24
Amtrak's trains are a good way to get from point to point, inexpensively and quickly, without subjecting your vehicle to miles it doesn't necessarily need to have. And they have Wi-Fi, of a sort. Here are some tips on how to connect to the Wi-Fi hotspots on the trains, and some things you should know.




Amtrak says that Wi-Fi connection is simple. Just connect to the "Amtrak_WiFi" network on any of its trains, and you're good to go. The reality is a bit more complex, though.

It says that it's connected to Wi-Fi, but there's no Internet connection
It says that it's connected to Wi-Fi, but there's no Internet connection

Before you travel

Know that the connection is slow, will go out from time to time, and won't do streaming video well, or at all. Don't count on being able to make downloads more than about 10MB in size, and mail might arrive later than you want it to.

And, here's some common sense advice -- like on any other network Amtrak Wi-Fi works better when there are fewer people on the train. Either pick a less-busy time to travel, or go business class.

For what it's worth, there is more legroom in business class, and even when our conductors on the trains we've traveled on have said that the train was sold out, the business class car never got more than about three-quarters full. When Wi-Fi was absolute garbage in the food car further forward on the train, it was adequate back in business class.

And on the train, you do have power for devices. Ever seat row has a pair of AC sockets on both sides of the train. Don't be a jerk about it, though -- your seat neighbor may want to use it too.

And a final warning -- the Wi-Fi on the train isn't secured. At all. Think about what sites you visit.

On the train, with your iPhone or iPad

The iPhone or iPad are the easiest Apple platforms to connect for a few reasons. We found the fewest problems when connecting, as the Amtrak routers generally popped up a captive terms of service screen automatically after connecting to the router.

If you're connected and can't use Wi-Fi still, the first thing to try hit Apple's captive page manually.
This can force the Amtrak terms of service screen to appear, if the router and the iPhone or iPad isn't connecting to the network properly.

If that doesn't work, then reset network settings on the device.
  • Tap the Settings icon

  • Tap General

  • Tap Reset

  • Tap Reset Network Settings

  • Try to reconnect to Wi-Fi

On the train with your Mac

We had more problems connecting the Mac. If the Amtrak terms and service page doesn't pop up, sometimes a stop to the captive page linked above does the trick.

If that doesn't work, check to see if you have a DNS server manually entered, like Google's at 8.8.8.8 or Cloudflare's at 1.1.1.1. If you do, either set up a new network location for the train, or delete the manual DNS entry and try the captive page again.

Multiple capture page visits?

This seems to be a fact of life. Nearly every time there's an engine change from electric to diesel, or a crew change at a big station, you'll have to re-authenticate. If you're on the train for more than about three hours, you'll have to do so as well.

Not having to do so is the exception rather than the rule.

Maybe no help, though

In our experience, the Wi-Fi has been iffy across the board. It'll work for 50 miles, then not work for 25, then again for 30, and so on. And, in some cases, it just won't work at all, anywhere on the train.

Amtrak has no tech support on the train. Do tell the staff, but they can't do anything for you immediately, and may not be able to until you hit a big station with a long stop -- and possibly not at all.

A better option

This Wi-Fi on the train won't eat your data, but like we said, it isn't secure. The best option to actually get work done at an acceptable internet speed is to either work directly on a LTE device, or tether your Mac to your iPhone's LTE connection.

Before you do this, to avoid sometimes massive over-charges, be sure that your data plan has an allowance for tethering, as connecting to a device that isn't your iPhone or iPad generally has a different data pool. Video streaming or carrier-blessed music services that don't count against your cap when used on your device, are generally counted when used on a tethered connection.

On your LTE device, do the following.
  • Tap the Settings icon

  • Tap Personal Hotspot

  • Toggle the feature on

  • Establish a Wi-Fi password, if you haven't already

  • Connect to the iPhone with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or with a cable to your computer
This will give you a secure connection to the internet, not bound by technical issues with the train. In all likelihood, you will lose the signal in a tunnel, though.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,261member
    WiFi on Amtrak has more of a headache than anything for me. I can almost always connect, but it's so slow that it's simply not worth the aggregation over using my data little for a month (if need be) to tether my iPhone.
  • Reply 2 of 17
    So basically, Amtrack’s WiFi is just crap  :D
  • Reply 3 of 17
    Odd, i travel Amtrak a lot and have not had issues with WIFi at all. I travel Northeast Regional and Acela to NYC and Boston. usually Business but sometimes First and coach but no real problems. Never had to rset anything and sometimes the capture never even shows, it just loads me up.
  • Reply 4 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,261member
    Odd, i travel Amtrak a lot and have not had issues with WIFi at all. I travel Northeast Regional and Acela to NYC and Boston. usually Business but sometimes First and coach but no real problems. Never had to rset anything and sometimes the capture never even shows, it just loads me up.
    California is rough. I assume they get their internet from cell towers, not from satellite, because when we’re going through areas with no cellular signal their WiFi drops off, too. I wonder what carriers they use

    On the plus side, you do get power outlets.
    edited July 24
  • Reply 5 of 17
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 358member
    Love the power outlets. The unsecured WiFi? Notsomuch. And I’ve run into spoofing  connections at NYC Penn station that led off to some Caribbean island and NOT Amtraks servers at the “log in” page. 
    edited July 24
  • Reply 6 of 17
    caladaniancaladanian Posts: 112member
    VPN should be mentioned. 
    chasm
  • Reply 7 of 17
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,871administrator
    VPN should be mentioned. 
    1) Beyond the scope of this article

    and

    2) Performance is so unreliable, tacking something else on like a VPN makes it worse.
    chasmnomadmac
  • Reply 8 of 17
    VPN should be mentioned. 
    1) Beyond the scope of this article

    and

    2) Performance is so unreliable, tacking something else on like a VPN makes it worse.
    ATT has VPN built into its security app and starts when you join a unsecured network. I use it all the time now and there is almost no setup and it turns on and off by itself as needed, or you can disable it. I've not noticed any performance issues when using it, but have NOT used it on Amtrak yet.
  • Reply 9 of 17
    VPN should be mentioned. 
    1) Beyond the scope of this article

    and

    2) Performance is so unreliable, tacking something else on like a VPN makes it worse.
    ATT has VPN built into its security app and starts when you join a unsecured network. I use it all the time now and there is almost no setup and it turns on and off by itself as needed, or you can disable it. I've not noticed any performance issues when using it, but have NOT used it on Amtrak yet.
    I wouldn't count on it maintaining connection due to the way VPN connections log on and maintain a persistent connection.

    I regularly travel between Seattle and Portland (and always in business class where the WiFi is reported to be more reliable) and have never been able to maintain my corporate VPN connection for more than a few minutes, so I don't even bother. I have a dedicated Netgear AT&T LTE hotspot I use - and even with that, over the course of the 4+ hour trip, I am generally able to use it for roughly 2/3 to 3/4 of the trip, and I have to reconnect usually at least 3-4 times.

    Back in ancient times, I traveled from Boston to New York on Acela and had reasonably reliable connection with my old CDPD AirCard. I presume that LTE service in the corridor is better than it is here along the Northwest Cascades/Coast Starlight route.
  • Reply 10 of 17
    ktappektappe Posts: 770member
    Odd, i travel Amtrak a lot and have not had issues with WIFi at all. I travel Northeast Regional and Acela to NYC and Boston. usually Business but sometimes First and coach but no real problems. Never had to rset anything and sometimes the capture never even shows, it just loads me up.

    I've no idea how you've not had problems. I used to use Amtrak monthly between Wilmington (DE) and New York, and the WiFi was exactly as spotty and unreliable as the article says. 

    I take issue with one item in the article. "Reset Network Settings" is not an action I'd perform lightly; I'm pretty sure it makes your device forget all WiFi access points and their passwords. That makes this action have a high price that few would be willing to pay.
    nomadmac
  • Reply 11 of 17
    andyringandyring Posts: 30member
    It's worth mentioning that poor service is likely NOT Amtrak's fault. Amtrak is essentially turning the train into a giant hotspot. They use regular cell towers for service and then turn that into the train's network. So if the train runs through an area with poor cell coverage, well, your wifi won't work very well either.

    And keep in mind that many times trains don't run through areas of high population density. In other words, when the train is in middle-of-nowhere Utah, for instance, or in a ravine next to a river, or in a tunnel, there isn't going to be cell service for the train to use.
  • Reply 12 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,261member
    andyring said:
    It's worth mentioning that poor service is likely NOT Amtrak's fault. Amtrak is essentially turning the train into a giant hotspot. They use regular cell towers for service and then turn that into the train's network. So if the train runs through an area with poor cell coverage, well, your wifi won't work very well either.

    And keep in mind that many times trains don't run through areas of high population density. In other words, when the train is in middle-of-nowhere Utah, for instance, or in a ravine next to a river, or in a tunnel, there isn't going to be cell service for the train to use.
    I've never used every mobile provider at once on a train whilst testing Amtrak's WiFi, but it does seem to me that Amtrak's mobile-broadband to WiFi setup isn't stellar. I've been on trains where the WiFi simply doesn't work at all on a given car.
  • Reply 13 of 17
    wg45678wg45678 Posts: 17member
    When I can’t get a captive page to come up to authenticate/agree to service terms, I’ve browsed to http://1.1.1.1. Most captive pages are set at that address. The page usually appears and problem is solved.  This method works anywhere. 
  • Reply 14 of 17
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,261member
    wg45678 said:
    When I can’t get a captive page to come up to authenticate/agree to service terms, I’ve browsed to http://1.1.1.1. Most captive pages are set at that address. The page usually appears and problem is solved.  This method works anywhere. 
    I've found that it's using a manually set DNS, like CloudFlare, that is the cause of the splash screen not popping up. If I type in the router address you can usually get to the splash screen.

    On my Mac I'd like a quick option for CloudFlare's DNS service. Something in the Menu Bar, just like how I enable/disable my VPN service.
  • Reply 15 of 17
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,871administrator
    wg45678 said:
    When I can’t get a captive page to come up to authenticate/agree to service terms, I’ve browsed to http://1.1.1.1. Most captive pages are set at that address. The page usually appears and problem is solved.  This method works anywhere. 
    This did not work on the four trains we tried it on.
  • Reply 16 of 17
    Soli said:
    Odd, i travel Amtrak a lot and have not had issues with WIFi at all. I travel Northeast Regional and Acela to NYC and Boston. usually Business but sometimes First and coach but no real problems. Never had to rset anything and sometimes the capture never even shows, it just loads me up.
    California is rough. I assume they get their internet from cell towers, not from satellite, because when we’re going through areas with no cellular signal their WiFi drops off, too. I wonder what carriers they use

    On the plus side, you do get power outlets.
    The service is provided to Amtrak by a third party networking firm. The trains are uplinked to carrier signals provided by both at&t Mobility and Verizon Wireless along each route.
  • Reply 17 of 17
    maltzmaltz Posts: 145member

    A better option

    This Wi-Fi on the train won't eat your data, but like we said, it isn't secure. The best option to actually get work done at an acceptable internet speed is to either work directly on a LTE device, or tether your Mac to your iPhone's LTE connection.
    The thing about that is Apple's maddening refusal to allow you to designate WiFi connections as metered, so your Mac/iOS device won't go trying to download a multi-gigabyte software update or doing an iCloud backup in the background, obliterating your data plan because it thinks you're on unlimited WiFi.  Windows 10 has always had this (don't know about earlier versions) and so does Android, I believe.
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