ONE of the most frustrating moments when travelling by train is when, because of a late running service, you end up missing your connection. Now, the government has gone one better by asking rail operators to ensure we’ll all miss a different sort of connection: of the Internet variety.

This week, it was revealed that the Department of Transport have asked rail companies to do away with free wi-fi, in order to help cut costs. It is, to put it mildly, a strange move. Travel anywhere these days, and free wi-fi is more or less the norm. I still remember the futuristic experience a few years ago of flying to Norway, and buying and downloading a book onto my Kindle en route. By next year, wi-fi will be available across the London Underground, tunnels and all. On trains, by contrast, progress appears to be buffering.

The decision feels bizarre for several reasons. Commuting numbers are massively down, a consequence of the pandemic and working from home. That has been exacerbated by ongoing train strikes (thought those had finished? There’s more coming next week). If you’ve been on the same lines as me, you’ll also have been coping with repeated weekend engineering works and replacement bus services. Given all that, the government should be going out of their way to encourage people off the roads and back onto rail. We can’t all do what Rishi does and order a helicopter for a meeting in Southampton, like he did the other week (I bet they have complimentary wi-fi on his fleet of private planes as well).

On top of this, the working world is increasingly technologically driven. The government talks the talk about the importance of the British tech sector, yet when it actually comes to supplying the technological infrastructure for Britain to compete, actions like this are going in the opposite direction.

Last week, on a packed, delayed commuter train from London to the West Country, an overcrowded carriage ended up making their own fun. Dan Brown, from Swindon, had a crossword puzzle in his pocket, and before long the whole carriage was joining in to complete the grid. The video of the communal commuter crossword went viral, with over 3.7 million views on TikTok.

It’s a heart-warming story of togetherness in the face of ineptitude and poor service. But rather than keeping crosswords in our pockets, it’s cross words with the powers that be we should be having. For all the talk about electric cars and hydrogen engines, trains remain one of the most environmentally friendly methods of transport going. We should be investing in them for the future: maintaining free wi-fi would seem a straightforward signal of such intent.