Mobile phones on trains

I’ll start by saying I don’t actually mind people using a phone on a train. In fact, I’d prefer people spoke than sat in silence, even if the speaking is to an unseen recipient in a conversation. I also think there are times when a phone on a train is essential, particularly at those busy times when you need to be in touch for work reasons but have to travel to meetings by train.

I’m not worried so much about the London Underground or any other tube based train system. I kind of expect not to be able to use my phone on those. They are, for the most part, underground! I realise that in the Dartford Tunnel you can get a radio signal in your car, but in a tube train you can’t. ’nuff said.

What I really, honestly, absolutely can’t understand is why overground trains have such exceptionally poor reception for mobile phone signals. Even when the train is running through a massively open area, and phone masts are in plain view, my phone struggles to get a signal. Perhaps the train was going too fast… (err, ok, perhaps not).

So here’s my idea and this should work on any electrically powered train.

If the trains had mobile phone ‘base stations’ in each carriage, capable of handling the numbers of phones in use, and those base stations were connected to the overhead cables, surely the cables could be used to carry the data signal to a repeater station that then linked to the main cellular network? It seems as if this isn’t possible – I can’t be the first to think of it, and I’m sure some phone companies will have investigated why this isn’t possible. I’d like to know where I can read about it all and find out why it isn’t possible. If I am the first, and it turns out it *is* possible, then why the heck hasn’t it happened yet?

OK, I’ll come clean. I was on a journey from London Euston to Preston in Lancashire on Friday (yesterday). We went right through the middle of the country, via Milton Keynes, Wigan and so on. I needed to make one five minute call, but it took over an hour to complete with all of the dropped signals and nonsense I had to contend with. I was really quite agitated by it all, and I can’t be the only one to have suffered in this way.

Is anyone doing any research into this, or a feasibility study? I’d love to be involved.