YORK'S big wheel has turned into an overwhelming success, with almost 200,000 visitors already hitching a ride.

The National Railway Museum (NRM) has had 343,500 visitors since the Norwich Union Yorkshire Wheel opened in April - a big increase on previous figures - with more than half going on the wheel.

A spokeswoman revealed today the wheel was even thought to have caused an increase in people travelling by train to York from the North East.

A York tourist boss said the spin-off benefits were being felt across the city, with visitors "hooked" by the lure of the wheel going on to see other attractions.

The latest figures were published after the go-ahead was given for the wheel to become York's most unusual - and highest - wedding venue.

The first couple is set to get hitched this autumn while in a pod almost 200ft above the city, after the museum was granted a licence by City of York Council to stage civil marriages and partnerships.

Couples will be accompanied only by a pair of registrars and a pair of witnesses, with family members, relatives and friends staying on the ground, and hearing the bride and groom say their vows over an audio communications system.

NRM boss Andrew Scott said today it had been "overwhelmed" by the wheel's success, while Judith Whitaker, head of commercial development, said that after only a few months, it had already become one of the city's favourite attractions, with visitor numbers exceeding expectations.

She said a visitor survey had revealed that 16 per cent of wheel riders were York residents, when normally only five per cent of museum visitors were York residents. She said 90 per cent of visitors believed the wheel was value for money, with 93 per cent planning to recommend it to their friends.

She said: "According to First TransPennine, they have seen a significant increase in the number of people travelling by train from the North East to York and they attribute this to the National Railway Museum and the Yorkshire Wheel."

Gillian Cruddas, Chief Executive of York Tourism Bureau, said the Wheel was the icing on the cake during an exciting year for tourism in York. "It is something completely different and adds a new dimension to York.

"The wheel is also acting as a hook to bring in new visitors, boosting revenue for the local economy.

"Other attractions in York are benefiting from the interest the wheel is creating."