Rail operator Great North Eastern Railways (GNER) has turned its network into a moving wireless hotspot, claiming the move provides it with the world's largest Wi-Fi fleet.

Passengers can already log on using Wi-Fi on some of GNER trains serving Inverness to King's Cross. And last week the train company announced the completion of a £3.2 million (US$6.1m) project to wireless-enable its entire 41-strong fleet.

The service uses a combination of the 3G and GPRS mobile wireless standards depending on the coverage along the track, using credit card payment access 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.

The project was originally due for completion next May, but strong demand from passengers has moved up its schedule, GNER told PC Advisor.

But 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.