I know it is hacky and overdone to compare Australian train systems to other rail systems around the world – the TGV! The Deutsche Bahn! The Shinkansen! The bit where the Japanese train inspector turns and bows to the carriage after checking tickets! The bit where passengers line up get off and on at major stations in 10 seconds! The bit where you can buy a beer! – but here we go.
I recently moved to one of Victoria’s “regional cities” which is all sweetness and light and marginally cheaper housing affordability, but now that the pandemic is over (at least, in the eyes of many employers), we are being gently chivvied back into the office like so many stray sheep. Which is fine, I guess. I mean I just developed a deep and lasting relationship with my 35 houseplants but they can do without me for 10 hours a day, whatever.
Anyway, so these return-to-office movements mean a return to the commute – which is not too bad. The trains are not overly crowded, and people only occasionally make horrendous coughing sounds in my vicinity, and the V/Line mostly runs on time. And the bonus is, now that I live in the back of beyond, my commute opens up a potentially glorious extra hour of productivity where I can pop open my laptop and achieve work goals while the countryside whizzes by.
But the reality is this is actually impossible. The V/Line does not have Wi-Fi – free or otherwise – and attempting to use your own internet connection is a good way to discover which parts of Victoria have terrible internet coverage. When I hook up my laptop to my mobile hotspot – even though I’m forking out for the fancy Telstra network – it drops out for most of the trip.
So instead of using this travel time to tick some work boxes, I’m sitting there waiting for websites to load and staring at the paddocks out the window. Not the best use of my time, although I did see two Shetland ponies wearing coats yesterday, so that was pretty cute.
Surely it’s time for VLine to chug into the 21st century and install free Wi-Fi on all their trains. It seems a startling oversight that this is not already a thing – some state Liberals promised it several years ago but it never took off – but I think the time is right now that much of Melbourne’s population has left the city for our beautiful regions.
I’m not asking for much – I can cope with the fact that a V/Line inspector is never going to bow courteously after checking my ticket, and I will never be offered an ice-cold can of Sapporo to enjoy on my trip, but providing free Wi-Fi could make up for these rail fails and make V/Line a train system Victorians can be truly proud of – and productive on.