Onboard Payphones

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ryan125hst

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In the 1990's, several trains (Class 158's, HST's and the 225's) were fitted with payphones. What I was wondering is:

1) How did they work? Did they use an early mobile phone network? I've never noticed any antennas on the outside of the trains.

2) What was the service like?

3) How much did it cost?

4) How much were they used? I'm guessing they were used a lot before mobiles became popular, but have now been removed because most people used mobiles now.

I've tried to find out about it online, but haven't found anything. It is easy to provide a service like this now (even aircraft and cruise ships have them), but it must have been more difficult back then.
 
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Bonemaster

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Having used these best part of 20 years ago, they provided a perfectly adequate service, although they did cost a small fortune and drank BT phonecards. Let us not forget that when these were fitted mobile phones had been around 5 years or so, but I never remember loosing reception using one, which would make me doubt it was mobile phone coverage.

I don't remember them being used particularly heavily, after all you got 3 or 4 times as much for your money when you found a payphone en-route.
 

DaveNewcastle

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. . . . . Let us not forget that when these were fitted mobile phones had been around 5 years or so, but I never remember loosing reception using one, which would make me doubt it was mobile phone coverage. . . .
I believe that they were mobile phones (albeit installed into a wall-mounted payphone), and operated on the same cell-based network as any other mobiles of the 1980's and early 1990's (until digital modulation and higher frequencies were adopted and then the old analogue cellular networks were eventually phased out later, around 2001).
I think that the onboard payphones were operated by Cellnet, a BT subsiduary. I remember staff using them to contact stations ahead.

To put these early mobiles in some context, there were only about 30 analogue channels available (whether within a cell or across the nation) and they used relatively high-power transmission by today's standards. These transmissions could be received by any suitable radio receiver within its range, and due to the higher powers, the range of a single phone - nearest base-station could be significantly further than today's lower powered, and higher frequency carrier frequencies. The number of mobile phones, across the UK, didn't reach 50,000 until the end of 1985.
 
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richw

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I recall using one when I was younger and it lost signal around bodmin area, I was quite young ringing for a relative to pick me up at truro station, as my gran was bringing me home from staying with her for a few days,. God only knows how I recall such a moment so clearly.

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43167

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I remember them and used them sometimes. Once when a 158 dropped vice pacer/156 on a Leeds-Skipton (very rare back then, 1993) my mate rang his mum to tell her we had left Leeds.
 

Aictos

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Not forgetting the 365s used to have them, I don't know if they were restricted to just the ex Connex fleet or the ex WAGN fleet but you can still see where the phones used to be on some of the 365s - I'm also fairly sure that of the 20 or so auto announcements available, there was one for the phones.
 

Liam

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I remember travelling back from Perth with my gran and went to use the phone to get picked up at Kirkcaldy station, but it either wasn't working or we had no phonecards. The guard on the service called Perth station who then called my mum who came to pick us up.:)
 

jon0844

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In the 1990's, several trains (Class 158's, HST's and the 225's) were fitted with payphones. What I was wondering is:

1) How did they work? Did they use an early mobile phone network? I've never noticed any antennas on the outside of the trains.

2) What was the service like?

3) How much did it cost?

4) How much were they used? I'm guessing they were used a lot before mobiles became popular, but have now been removed because most people used mobiles now.

I've tried to find out about it online, but haven't found anything. It is easy to provide a service like this now (even aircraft and cruise ships have them), but it must have been more difficult back then.
They were analogue mobile phones. Can't remember if they used Cellnet or Vodafone.

The service was okay, but you could get cut off mid call and would suffer interference as the signal fluctuated (unlike the digital all-or-nothing system we have today).

One very important thing to note is that in the analogue days, when you had carphones and transportables - you also had different classes, meaning different power levels and antennas. Thus, the mobile transceiver in the payphone would have been a lot more powerful than your handheld mobile - and the antenna would have (or should have) been positioned in a good location, and a large full-wave design. Again, a lot better than the tiny antennas in mobiles today. If you had a mobile phone today with a higher output PLUS an external antenna (remember when mobiles had these?) then you'd probably never get a dropped call again! Of course, you'd have no battery life either.

I can't remember the cost but I'm sure you could only make calls with a BT phonecard, not cash. I'd imagine they were expensive and subject to a minimum charge - but I vaguely remember calls to the operator being free, so maybe you could get reconnected when cut off? (My memory is poor here)

Finally, I am not sure how well they were used but given most people didn't have a mobile phone, they were used a lot more than they ever would be now.

Many boats now have their own mobile phone network, which charge a fortune, but do at least allow you to make and receive calls anywhere on the boat. Of course, on some boats you can pick up service from nearby land, and pay less.

Payphones have probably had their day, but will be useful in rural areas where mobile coverage may be very poor - if only for calling the emergency services.

Edit; apologies for not noticing some of the things I've said were already said!
 
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Michael.Y

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Weirdly enough I was thinking about this this morning -- I worked an unrefurbed 158 and as I went past the spot where the phone used to be I noticed how draughty and generally noisy it was at that spot -- couldn't have made for a very quiet call! I know the 158s have had 20 years of wear and tear since then, but still....
 

Schnellzug

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The ones on the class 442s used a Phonecard, I seem to recall. There was a very small antenna on the top of the coach, no bigger than the little aerials they had on contemporary mobile Phones.
 

WillPS

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158s were built with them too. In the panel with the toilet "engaged" light there was also a light to denote when the payphone was in use.
 

wintonian

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The ones on the class 442s used a Phonecard, I seem to recall. There was a very small antenna on the top of the coach, no bigger than the little aerials they had on contemporary mobile Phones.
I know the 442 ones took credit cards but don't remember them taking phonecards.
 

jon0844

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Didn't the original phonecards just etch away a bit of the card to show it had been used?

Credit cards/calling cards required a call to the operator or a system where you dialled in (144) and entered your card number, then the phone number. Can't remember if there was a PIN or not.

I'm quite sure you didn't insert the card itself in the machine, even if payphones may have allowed this later on (don't use payphones much now!).
 
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