RAIL firm East Coast could face a backlash over its decision to charge standard-class passengers a fee to use its wireless internet.

The company said standardclass passengers, who previously used its wi-fi for free, would still be entitled to 15 minutes free access.

But thereafter, access to the updated system would be charged at £4.95 for an hour or £9.95 for 24 hours.

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First-class passengers will still be able to access the service for free, a spokesman said.

East Coast’s decision means the charging policy for wi-fi has come full circle on trains that use the route.

Former operator GNER previously charged for wi-fi in standard class, but its successor, National Express, which bowed out last year, made it free across the board.

The wi-fi service has become increasingly popular in recent years with travellers who use laptops or other electronic devices to access the internet.

Passenger Ian Wylie, from Newcastle, said: “East Coast are taking a step back towards the dark ages. Standard class tickets are often very expensive, so it’s particularly galling that first-class passengers will continue to receive this service free of charge.

Free wi-fi is a real incentive to travel by train and great PR, painting East Coast as a goahead switched-on 21st Century company.

“How many people do they think will pay £4.95 for 60 minutes or £9.95 for 24 hours?”

East Coast said in a statement: “[We] have responded to customer needs and invested £600,000 in [our] wi-fi service, which will deliver better upload and download speeds and ensure a more reliable internet connection.

“The service is free to firstclass passengers while the charge being introduced for standard class is in line with other wi-fi providers, although the first 15 minutes is free.”

Rival operator Grand Central said it had no plans to introduce similar charges for the use of its wi-fi.

A spokesman said: “Wi-fi will remain free for both standard and first-class passengers on North Eastern and West Riding routes.”

Guy Dangerfield, manager at passenger representative group Passenger Focus, said: “It’s disappointing that East Coast is abandoning National Express’s commitment to make wi-fi on the east coast route free throughout the journey and for all passengers.

“If passengers are going to be paying for it, East Coast will have to work hard to ensure the system is more reliable than it’s historically been.”

East Coast trains are least punctual

EAST Coast has lagged behind again when it comes to the latest figures on train punctuality.

According to Network Rail, the rail operator, which is run by a Government-backed management company, saw an average of 85.9 per cent of its trains run on time between August 22 and September 18.

This was the worst performance of any train company.

“On-time” for long-distance train operators is regarded as trains being within ten minutes of their scheduled arrival times.

East Coast said its punctuality had again been affected by “factors outside its control”.

This included a “significant” cable theft in Newark, Nottinghamshire, on September 10, and overhead line problems.

A spokesman said: “For the second consecutive fourweek period, the top three causes of delay were due to infrastructure and other external factors, including cable theft, damage to overhead power lines and breakdowns involving other operator’s trains.

“Had these events not happened, we would have met our target for more than nine trains out of ten on time.

“We’re continuing to make improvements and we achieved the best performance on the line for six years on one day last week.”

Overall, train firms averaged 93.5 per cent punctuality during the four-week period.