GNER not ducking Wi-Fi challenge

The expanded Internet access scheme is to be implemented on all the company's east coast mainline Mallard trains

East coast rail operator GNER is to embark on a major expansion of its on-board wireless Internet service as part of its £1.3bn ten-year franchise to run the London-to-Edinburgh line.

GNER launched its Wi-Fi service at the end of 2003 and installed the system on ten of its rebuilt Mallard trains, in an attempt to create a mobile office environment to lure business travellers back from the low-cost domestic airlines.

Under the new franchise awarded last month, GNER said it plans to fit every train in its fleet with the wireless data communications system.

The satellite-based system, supplied by Icomera, allows passengers with wireless-enabled laptops to access email and Internet on-board GNER trains. Each train is fitted with an antenna that can communicate with satellites and GPRS systems along the route. This is then linked to all coaches on-board, via the train's lighting circuit.

GNER's chief operating officer Jonathan Metcalfe said in a statement that usage of Wi-Fi on-board the east coast line trains has grown at a remarkable pace.

"We believe the expanded Wi-Fi service will encourage more people to choose rail instead of driving or flying, at a time when we are introducing many more comfortable and reliable trains. Wireless Internet is already proving invaluable to our business customers as a means of transforming train time into more productive working time," he said.

Wi-Fi is available to GNER's first-class passengers as a free service, while standard customers have to pay from £2.95 for half an hour to £9.95 for three hours' connection. But GNER claims that some standard-class passengers have been tempted to upgrade to first class to get the free Wi-Fi service.