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UK train operator GNER today said it will roll-out Wi-Fi across its fleet following the successful trial service the company has been running since December.

The programme will see GNER initially provide the service on its Mallard trains - the company's renamed, refitted electric rolling stock that will operate on the UK's East Coast main line. The updated carriages will also sport power sockets for notebook computers and other devices.

Ten trains have been targeted for Wi-Fi access in the first instance, and will be in service by the end of the year, operating between London Kings Cross, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland.

GNER plans to upgrade its 302-strong fleet of Mark 4 carriages to Mallard standard over time. The company also said it intends to equip its other trains with Wi-Fi in due course.

The service itself - dubbed GNER Mobile Office - uses a satellite link to connect a carriage's Wi-Fi access point to the Internet. Multiple GSM/GPRS connections are used when the train passes through a tunnel or moves inside a station where the satellite's line-of-sight is blocked. Mobile Office is based on technology from Swedish railway Wi-Fi specialist Icomera.

GNER began trialling the service on 1 December 2003, initially for a 19-day period which was subsequently extended through to the summer, when the full service will begin. The company currently runs two Diesel trains with Wi-Fi on board, providing Internet access as a bonus for First Class ticket holders. Recently it added Wi-Fi to one of the three Mallards currently in service.

The full service will be offered throughout the train. Like the trial, it will be free to GNER's First Class passengers, and will be available in Standard accommodation at a cost of £4.95 ($9) per hour.

Virgin Trains is currently equipping its Pendolino locomotives and carriages with Wi-Fi, in partnership with Broadreach Networks. Virgin will offer the service to both First and Second Class ticket holders, and is expected to have access enabled on all its trains by the Autumn. Wi-Fi access is already available in Virgin's First Class lounges at London Euston, Coventry, Birmingham New Street, Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester Piccadilly.

GNER CEO Christopher Garnett said: "We are confident that the new service will encourage more people to take the train instead of driving or flying."

Indeed, preliminary research conducted on behalf of Broadreach shows that 72 per cent of passengers would choose rail over other forms of transport if they could use on-board Wi-Fi. Broadreach's survey covered both long-distance travellers and commuters, and both First and Second Class passengers. Some 80 per cent of business rail users said they were interested in accessing the Internet while travelling. ®

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Silicon Valley to get US' first Wi-Fi train

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