FirstGroup keeps Great Western franchise to 2019
FirstGroup will retain its Great Western passenger franchise for another three and a half years, the Department for Transport has announced. It will run from 30 September 2015 to 1 April 2019, with the DfT having the option to extend for a further year. FirstGroup will pay the Government around £68m to April 2019. No other financial details are available.
This will be the second directly awarded franchise for FirstGroup Great Western; the first one was extended by 23 months in October 2013 after the previous contract expired.
The news coincides with publication of the government’s response to the public GW franchise consultation carried out in May and June last year, which elicited nearly 500 responses. Some of the public’s aspirations were incorporated into the new franchise agreement.
Service improvements will be phased in over three main timetable periods: (1) from September 2015; (2) from May 2017; (3) and from December 2018 to the franchise end date. The service changes reflect the £7.5bn investment programme of infrastructure upgrades – of which of the GWML electrification is the most important component – and which is scheduled for completion within with final phase.
Despite the electrification and rolling stock cascades, there will still be a shortage of modern trains, however, so: “FGW is pursuing a procurement policy for a new train fleet for the West and South West of England for delivery in time for the December 2018 timetable change. We expect this to conclude in June and accordingly the Franchise Agreement contains a ‘switch’ to enable the new build fleet option to be taken up if the DfT determines that the business case for this investment is value for money,” the government response said.
Their introduction will be necessary as the new high-speed IEP trains (Classes 800 and 801s) will not provide services on the main West of England route (via Castle Cary, Taunton and Exeter). PRM-compliant HSTs will continue to operate these services until new stock becomes available. The GWML electrification will permit the cascade of 29 Class 387s (from Thameslink) and 21 Class 365s (from Great Northern) emus for the Thames Valley services out of Paddington. An additional eight class 387s will be built by Bombardier and leased from Porterbrook.
The displaced Class 165 dmus will be cascaded to the Bristol area. The 3-car class 158s currently used between Cardiff and Portsmouth will be replaced by 5-car formations of Class 165 and 166 dmus (likewise displaced from the Thames Valley) on most trains to relieve overcrowding. The class 158s will be used to improve service frequencies between Penzance and Plymouth.
Electrification and the associated rolling stock cascades will speed up services, enhance frequencies and increase capacity. All types of services will see improvements – intercity, regional and suburban. Thames Valley commuting will provide over 32,000 seats in the morning peak.
Other details include £30m for 2,100 car parking spaces and other station improvements; £2.3m for better station CCTV coverage; and £2.45m for station access improvements.