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US train firm tests passenger wireless Internet access

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in the US is to test wireless Internet access to passengers on Amtrak's Keystone Line, which stops in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Chris Johnston, assistant deputy secretary of local area transportation at PennDOT, said the agency issued a $155,000 (£99,704) grant to Philadelphia-based NRoute Communications, the company providing the technology.

Johnston said PennDOT would gauge customer reaction and interest via an online survey as well as through face-to-face interviews.

NRoute's system will allow Amtrak riders to watch movies and television, check and send e-mail, and shop online using interactive touch-screen displays integrated into the back of each seat, Johnston said.

NRoute markets a proprietary mobile, high-speed wireless network that delivers full video, audio and Internet access via wireless and satellite technologies to passengers on trains and motor coaches.

The test, which begins next month and will last a year, will be conducted on one lounge car on the line, which has about 36 seats.

NRoute president Bob Lisowski said the grant from PennDot will cover the costs of purchasing and installing the equipment. NRoute will operate the network with revenue from the advertiser-supported site.

Ultimately NRoute plans to allow riders to connect to the network via their laptops for a fee, and also offer pay-per-view movies.

Lisowski said NRoute's technology uses geo-positioning and satellite capabilities to distribute high-speed interconnectivity to the train while it is moving. A local caching server on board would hold video content, updated news, weather, sports and advertising. Large updates to the server would occur when the train is at the station.

Amtrak will get a small share of the ad revenue, said Amtrak spokesman Bill Epstein.

Although Lisowski said NRoute is looking forward to a long-term relationship with Amtrak, Epstein said if Amtrak were to offer Internet access on a national level, it would have to partner with a company with deeper pockets than start-up NRoute.

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