Spirit of Brunel lives again at Paddington
First Great Western has been renamed Great Western Railway (GWR) as it enters a new 42-month direct award franchise, agreed with the Department for Transport.
The GWR branding has already been introduced in refurbished first class coaches on the company’s HST sets and on some of its carriages for the Night Riviera sleeper service, but the official launch will see much of the train fleet re-liveried, stations and publicity displaying the new image and new staff uniforms introduced.
The route is set to undergo a transformation in the coming years, with electrification from London to Oxford, Newbury and Bristol (and then on to Cardiff and South Wales), new Inter-city Express Programme (IEP) and Hitachi AT300 trains replacing HSTs and EMUs introduced on Thames Valley services, triggering a cascade of diesel rolling stock across the West Country. The company says the average age of its train fleet will be slashed ‘by more than half’, while a new timetable will offer quicker journeys and more direct trains. However, Network Rail’s modernisation programme has been beset by delays and cost increases, and there is major doubt as to whether the electrification will meet its planned target completion dates.
Great Western Railway Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: ‘This is much more than a rebadging exercise. It’s a statement and a mission. We have a far-reaching plan for the greatest transformation in the railway in decades – including the largest fleet overhaul since the days of steam and heralding a new age of faster electric trains, equipped with the foremost technology and passenger comforts.’
FirstGroup Chief Executive Tim O’Toole added: ‘We will be using our unrivalled knowledge and experience of the network to help deliver significant upgrades over the next few years and are already working closely with the DfT and Network Rail to deliver the initial phases of a £7.5 billion investment programme to transform a key part of the country’s transport infrastructure.’
The direct award franchise agreement will run until April 2019, and is designed to cover the major transitional aspects of the route modernisation, including the introduction of new trains and timetables. A competed franchise is then expected to follow when the award finishes.