Rail passengers will benefit from improved services, including greater WiFi coverage, on the Great Western network as a result of a new franchise agreement announced today (3 October 2013).
Under the agreement the government has reached with First Greater Western Ltd (FGW), the company will continue running the franchise to operate trains between London Paddington, the Cotswolds, south Wales and the south west.
The new 23 month franchise is a further sign that the government’s programme is on-track. It will also enable the continued delivery of vital work to upgrade the line in future, including electrification to help deliver faster, more reliable journeys.
A multi-billion pound programme of national rail investment by Network Rail has already seen more than £5 billion pumped into projects benefitting passengers on the Great Western network. These include Crossrail, the electrification of more than 200 miles of track on the Great Western line, and the upgrade of Reading Station.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:
The Great Western franchise provides a vital service for thousands of passengers every day and under this deal they will see real benefits.
For communities like Devon and Cornwall the train is a life-line bringing in business and helping secure the leisure industry the community relies upon. This agreement will provide additional sleeper carriages between London and Cornwall securing the future of a key service once under threat.
We have also secured a commitment to deliver greater WiFi coverage to improve the experience of long distance journeys for passengers. But I am also determined that we see further improvements during the lifetime of this contract; more standard class and fewer first class seats on key services and the delivery of more electric trains for the Thames Valley.
This agreement provides further proof that the government’s new franchising schedule is on track, delivering value for money for the tax-payer and supporting the ongoing multi-billion pound investment programme in our railways.
Today’s announcement is part of the continued successful roll out of the new rail franchising schedule. The government has agreed a 23 month direct award with FGW to run services from London Paddington to west and south west England and south Wales and commuter services into Paddington until September 2015. A further contract will be negotiated before a long-term franchise is let.
Wider benefits secured as part of this announcement by the Department for Transport include:
- two additional sleeper carriages for services between London and Cornwall, to provide additional seasonal capacity for leisure and business passengers - this agreement has been reached with the support of Cornwall Council and Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, which have provided additional funding for the service in recognition of the important role it plays in meeting the needs of business travellers
- an agreement to fit more trains with free wireless internet services, so that passengers will be able to work and surf while travelling - priority for this upgrade will be given to long-distance trains, providing the benefits to the passengers who need it most
- the retention of through services from Cornwall, Hereford, Weston-super-Mare, Bedwyn and Pewsey to London
- more car parking spaces at Bristol Parkway station by spring 2014
In addition the government-funded National Station Improvement Programme will see FGW get £4.6 million to upgrade stations most in need across the Great Western network.
The Great Western Main Line is also set to benefit from 57 state-of-the-art intercity express trains as part of the government’s £5.8 billion Intercity Express Programme from 2017.
The Department for Transport will continue to work with FGW on a number of other proposals to improve services over the next two years, including:
- delivery of a fleet of electric trains for the Thames Valley routes, which will allow for existing diesel trains to go to other areas of the franchise where they are needed, increasing capacity on those areas of the network
- increasing the capacity of the existing high speed train fleet, with the addition of new seating in advance of the arrival of the new intercity express trains
- smart ticketing
- the delivery of improvements to services and stations through the life of the direct award
The contract is the third direct award to be delivered by the department following the successful negotiations with Virgin Trains in December last year for them to continue running services on the West Coast Main Line and the award made to c2c for the Essex Thameside franchise in May. The department has also successfully released on schedule invitations to tender for the Essex Thameside and Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchises last month.
The government announced its new franchising schedule in March following an independent review by industry expert Richard Brown, which endorsed the department’s overall franchise strategy. He also advised staggering competitions to make them more deliverable and the government has announced a programme of direct awards to deliver this.
Ongoing improvements being delivered across the Great Western franchise by Network Rail also include:
- the redevelopment of Reading Station creating new platforms, better track layout and junction remodelling to remove a major bottleneck, reduce delays and create four extra train paths in each direction per hour
- the electrification of GWML from Paddington to Bristol, Oxford and Newbury by 2016-17, which will allow the introduction of new intercity express trains. These trains will have 20 per cent more seats and their faster acceleration and deceleration will lead to journey time reductions of up to 22 minutes
- the creation of a second track on 12 miles of the south Cotswold line to improve overall capacity between Swindon and Standish Junction and provide an enhanced diversionary route for south Wales
- proposed improvements to stations working with FGW at Gloucester, Exeter Central, Newton Abbot, Plymouth and Truro, having completed schemes at Newbury, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Cheltenham, Chippenham and Penzance.