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GWR takeover deal preserves Heathrow Express until 2028

Great Western Railway (GWR), subsidiary of FirstGroup, has reached an agreement with the government which means it will run the operational aspects of the Heathrow service under a management contract from later this year.

While Heathrow will retain control of services such as marketing, ticket pricing and revenue, GWR will take over the actual running of the franchise until 2028, effectively swallowing it up as part of its own franchise.

GWR will manage the introduction of a new, dedicated fleet of trains for the Heathrow service, which will be specially converted by December 2019 to provide First Class carriages, high-speed wi-fi, additional luggage racks, and on-board entertainment.

As a result of the agreement, a new Heathrow Express Langley depot – which would have been required to service trains because the HS2 building schedule requires HEx to vacate the Old Oak Common depot by the end of 2019 – will no longer be needed.

Next month the initial phase of Heathrow Crossrail services will be introduced, and from December 2019, with the full opening of the Elizabeth Line, rail services into Heathrow will increase from 18 trains an hour to at least 22 trains an hour.

Heathrow, the DfT, TfL and Network Rail are conducting a joint feasibility study into increasing the frequency of Elizabeth Line trains from six to eight trains an hour by the mid-2020s.

Tim O’Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, said that the agreement demonstrates that the transport industry is working in partnership for the benefit of passengers.

“We are an experienced rail operator with a strong track record in delivering customer improvements, and through this management contract we look forward to building on this operational expertise, as we work with Heathrow to bring in a dedicated fleet of high-specification trains that will help keep people moving and communities prospering in the future,” he added.

Chief executive of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, also commented: “This agreement secures convenient and reliable public transport journeys to Heathrow in this decade and beyond.  

“We have ambitious plans to transform rail journeys into the airport, and our passengers will reap the benefits of having Heathrow at the heart of an integrated, sustainable transport network.”

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