EMUs for Thames Valley and AT300s planned for London to South West services
The government has reached agreement with First Great Western on a new direct award franchise, which will see the company continue to operate services across the region until April 2019.
The 42-month agreement includes the option of a one-year extension at the Secretary of State’s discretion. FGW will pay the government around £68 million to operate the franchise.
The award was planned by the Department for Transport to ensure continuity while Network Rail completes electrification from London to Bristol, Oxford and Newbury and upgrades the route’s infrastructure ahead of the introduction of Class 800/801 Inter-city Express (IEP) trains.
FGW says the deal will see the age of its fleet slashed by ‘more than half’ with ‘new or updated trains in every area of the network’ and 9,000 additional seats created every day by the end of the franchise. Free Wi-Fi will be provided on all train fleets.
The company plans to rebrand before the new franchise starts, making use of the GWR branding currently used in first class carriages on its HSTs.
A mix of Class 387 and Class 365 EMUs will be introduced on Thames Valley services from spring 2016, following completion of electrification. The total fleet of 58 four-car units will increase the number of seats for commuters travelling in the high peak by 25% from spring 2017. A cascade of Class 165/166 Turbos will follow, replacing FGW’s ‘smallest, oldest and least reliable’ DMUs on services in the West Country.
In addition to the introduction of IEP sets for services from London to South Wales, Bristol and Oxford, FGW will procure additional trains for services to Devon and Cornwall, replacing the HSTs currently in use on these routes from summer 2018. First has named Hitachi as its preferred supplier to provide a fleet of 29 bi-mode AT300 trains.
The agreement promises more direct trains into Devon and Cornwall, including two trains per hour to the south west, a doubling of the number of services into and out of Cornwall, an earlier arrival into Plymouth and journey time reductions between Paddington and Penzance of up to 14 minutes.
The introduction of IEP sets will see journeys between London and Bristol cut by up to 17 minutes and London and Cardiff by up to 14 minutes.
FGW also plans a £50 million investment to improve its stations, including 2,000 new car park spaces across the network, customer information improvements and improved public address systems. £2.5 million is promised for station access improvements along with a £3.5 million station development match fund.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the agreement ‘marks a new chapter for the Great Western railway’.