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DfT to extend First Great Western contract until 2019

The Department for Transport (DfT) is to extend the First Great Western contract for three and a half years with a directly awarded franchise, RTM has learned.

FirstGroup will continue to run the Great Western route until March 2019, with the DfT having the option to extend the contract for a further year, but the full terms of the agreement are still to be negotiated.

It is understood that DfT have made the decision to negotiate a three and a half year award with FirstGroup because it would be too disruptive to hold a competitive tendering process during the programme of electrification and delivery of new IEP trains due to take place over the next four years.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “As part of the government’s long-term economic plan I want to see rail travel in the South West transformed. That is why we are delivering a huge programme of electrification and new, modern trains bringing faster, more comfortable and more reliable journeys. First Great Western is best placed to help to deliver these projects over the next four years.

“Throughout this period we will continually be looking at new ways to improve the service for passengers including developing proposals for a half hourly service between Plymouth and Penzance which could also serve Exeter.”

Last year, First Group was awarded a two-year contract to operate Great Western services, running from September last year until September next year, while the government considered options for the future.

The uncontested deal means FirstGroup will maintain a foothold in the rail business. It has recently been beaten in a number of contract bids, including losing its former First Capital Connect franchise to the new Thameslink franchise, and the surprise loss of ScotRail for the Aberdeen-based group to Dutch firm Abellio.

Commenting on the DfT announcement Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup’s chief executive, said: “We welcome the publication of the latest DfT franchising timetable which continues to demonstrate clarity and momentum in the re-franchising programme.

“A period of detailed negotiation will follow but we are very pleased that, after a consultation process in which the DfT sought the views of stakeholders and user groups across the line of route, the DfT intend to negotiate a direct award of at least three-and-a-half years with us. This will offer good value for money and better services for First Great Western passengers and in particular, will provide stability and allow the planned major projects and new trains to be delivered.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Jak Jaye   10/10/2014 at 11:06

Why? First Group couldn't run a bath let alone a railway! i and thousands of other luckless commuters have suffered 2 and a half days of major disruption on the GWML this week due to yet another 'Signalling problem' all packed like sardines in their awful high density HST. Just goes to show failure does get its rewards

Bob   10/10/2014 at 12:41

Signalling problems are hardly FGW fault is it? And they have been prevented from having more stock by the DfT until the unloved and very expensive IEP arrives. FGW hands at tied. But they are the public face of the DfT, so get all the flack when Nework are trying to keep and ancient signalling system going, or unable to but new stock

David   10/10/2014 at 15:04

With the end of the franchise in sight, FGW has increased non-regulated fares mercilessly - no doubt the milking will continue until 2009. OK, the trains aren't their fault (but they must be a cheap lease by now), but lack of WiFi and working toilets certainly is. So, what does Mr O'Toole's stability and good value for money mean - his bonus? I would love to know how the passengers will benefit.

Clive   10/10/2014 at 16:11

I reckon that the Dft will let fgw keep the franchise till its electrified then it will be game over for first.....

Tim   10/10/2014 at 17:10

I bet they are taking a massive profit out of the franchise despite their poor quality service. They are a private company and could invest in their own trains. They are a foreign company that want our government to buy them new trains so that they can make more money? We put up with rubbish and they get rewarded for it! The franchising system is broken

Neil Palmer   11/10/2014 at 20:34

As Bob says, you can't blame FGW for signalling problems or other issues that are Network Rail's responsibility. Also the rolling stock is pretty much dictated by DfT, as was the "sardine can" conversion of HSTs. That said, other extended contracts have been accompanied by some reasonable improvements for the poor sods who suffer day to day as cattle (sorry, customers). Apart from a mention of increasing service to half-hourly from Penzance to Plymouth (with a possible extension to Exeter) what else are First going to offer for this extra 3.5 to 4.5 years during the period of "detailed negotiation" ? David's suggestion of Wi-Fi and working toilets sounds like a good starting point.

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