Rail Industry Focus

01.05.15

FGW outlines future fleet improvement plans

Source: RTM Apr/May 15

A new fleet of 29 bi-mode trains on the key intercity route to the south west and 58 four-car electric trains for Thames Valley services will be introduced on the Great Western network. David Stevenson reports.

Over the next four years a range of new fleets will be introduced on the Great Western network under the terms of a direct-award franchise, announced by the secretary of state for transport, Patrick McLoughlin, in late March. 

As part of the deal, incumbent operator FirstGroup will pay the government around £68m to operate the franchise from September 2015 to April 2019, but this could be extended by up to one further year at the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) discretion. 

Subject to DfT approval, First Great Western (FGW) plans to replace its IC125 High Speed Trains (HSTs) on routes between London and Devon and Cornwall from the summer of 2018, with a fleet of 29 bi-mode trains from Hitachi – subject to contract. 

As the preferred supplier, Hitachi would provide the fleet of 200km/h AT300 trains – consisting of seven nine-car and 22 five-car trains, with an option for 30 more. The trains are closely related to the Class 800 bi-mode trains designed for the DfT’s Intercity Express Programme, but “will utilise higher engine operating power to cope with the gradients in Devon and Cornwall”. 

They will run as electric trains between London and Newbury, and are “equipped with bigger fuel tanks” to cater for the long-distance journeys to Plymouth and Penzance. 

Andy Barr, chief operating officer at Hitachi Rail Europe, said: “The Class 800 bi-mode trains were initially designed for the Great Western and East Coast main lines and we have refined the design further for the challenges of the route to Plymouth and Penzance.” 

FirstGroup says it carried out a competitive procurement exercise for the trains and it is close to securing private financing for the deal. The DfT is expected to make a final decision on the order by the end of June, following May’s general election. The fleet is due to enter service from December 2018. 

It is expected that around three million extra seats a year will be available by 2018 across the franchise, and the introduction of 369 new carriages through the roll-out of the DfT’s Class 800 Intercity Express Programme (IEP) is still on course. 

On top of the provisional introduction of the AT300s, the Great Western network will also get 58 four-car electric trains for Thames Valley services. 

RTM was told that from spring 2016 this will include 21 Class 365 units from the Great Northern route under the Thameslink Programme, and 29 Class 387s, which are being introduced at Thameslink as a stopgap measure pending the delivery of the Siemens Class 700s. 

An extra eight Class 387s are to be ordered by Porterbrook from Bombardier as an option on Govia Thameslink Railway’s current order for Gatwick Express Class 387/2 units. It is expected that the additional capacity offered by the Class 387s could help fulfil FGW’s pledge to offer an additional 8,000 seats in peak hours between Reading and London by 2018. The new fleet will start being introduced next year and fully implemented by May 2017. 

FGW managing director Mark Hopwood said:  “For us, this franchise deal is about changing the way people think about rail. The Great Western network is already seeing the biggest investment since Brunel, and this deal has been designed to match that investment and ambition. 

“It gives passengers newer trains, faster, more frequent services and importantly, given the growth this franchise has seen in recent years, more seats – three million extra seats a year by December 2018.” 

The changes are part of the biggest fleet upgrade in a generation on the FGW network, and free wi-fi will be introduced across all its fleet. 

Patrick McLoughlin said: “I am determined that passengers in the west, Thames Valley and south Wales get a railway that is fit for the 21st century. This is a fantastic deal which will give them more seats, more services and brand new fleets of modern trains.”

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