By Steve McCaskill
Virgin Trains, which operates the UK's West Coast and East Coast rail franchises, is offering free on-board entertainment to passengers, claiming the service is superior to similar systems installed on planes.
All passengers, regardless of the class they are traveling in, can download the 'Beam' application on their iPhone, iPad or Android device, to access a catalog of films, TV shows, magazines and games.
Beam is available on all Pendolino trains on the West Coast route from today, and will be extended to Voyager trains by September 2016, meaning 90 percent of passengers will be covered. The app is also being rolled out on the East Coast main line, too and should be available to all by September.
Virgin Trains Beam
"At Virgin Trains we pride ourselves on continuously improving our customers' on-board experience and so will continue to update the content on BEAM to guarantee our passengers have the latest entertainment on offer," said Patrick McCall, co-chairman for Virgin Trains.
"The new service is more advanced than the systems currently available on planes as customers use their own devices, which normally have larger screens with better picture quality than standard seat-back devices."
Beam has two benefits for Virgin Trains. One is that 'in-flight' style entertainment services will help it compete with domestic air travel, and the other is that it can help reduce any strain on WiFi networks that are becoming increasingly vital for business travelers.
A number of in-flight WiFi providers, such as Gogo, also include entertainment as part of the service, allowing customers to access a range of content such as live streaming.
A number of other train operators also offer either free or paid-for WiFi, but the government wants free wireless connectivity to be a condition of any future rail franchise bid, with a £50 million fund available to accelerate deployment.
It had been thought that the revenue generated from the Network Rail fines would be used to build a wireless network for a number of commuter routes into London, but it appears as though the government has now adopted a less concentrated approach.
The Scottish government has already pledged £2 million to bring free Wi-Fi to ScotRail express trains while, Leeds and Bradford authorities have used money from the Super Connected Cities program to deploy wireless on several routes in West Yorkshire.