Rail operator GNER (Great North Eastern Railways) has fitted all of its trains with Wi-Fi and turned its network into a moving wireless hotspot, claiming that the move provides it with the world's largest Wi-Fi fleet.
GNER passengers had already been able to log on using Wi-Fi on some of the trains serving its 580-mile Inverness to King's Cross East Coast mainline service. However, last week the train company announced the completion of a £3.2m project to wireless-enable its entire 41-strong fleet.
The project was originally due for completion next May, but GNER told PC Advisor its efforts were hastened following strong demand from passengers.
The service uses a combination of the 3G and GPRS mobile wireless standards depending on the coverage along the track, with the system accepting credit card payments of £2.95 for a 30-minute internet session, £4.95 for an hour or £7.95 for three hours.
GNER says it will recoup the cost of installing its Wi-Fi service through increased passenger numbers. Leeds, Newcastle and Darlington have been identified as the target areas where the train operator hopes to tempt passengers out of their cars and on to trains.
However, whether GNER's current owners will be around long enough to reap the benefits remains to be seen. Caribbean-based parent company Sea Containers applied for protection against bankruptcy in the US two weeks ago. Although it is theoretically 'ringfenced' from whatever happens to Sea Containers, GNER warned the UK government last week that it needs to renegotiate its operating licence. It threatened to withdraw from the franchise in May when a hefty penalty clause for not meeting its performance targets kicks in.
GNER is not the only train operator to install wireless equipment in its fleet. Virgin Trains is set to Wi-Fi-enable the West Coast mainline fleet next year while passengers travelling from Brighton to London have enjoyed wireless connectivity for some time.