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Hitachi to supply AT300s as part of new FGW franchise

Hitachi is to provide a fleet of 29 bi-mode trains, replacing 40-year-old HSTs on the key intercity route to the south west, as part of the new First Great Western (FGW) franchise. 

The DfT has awarded FirstGroup the contract to operate the new franchise from September 2015 to April 2019, but this could be extended by up to one further year at the Department’s discretion. 

FGW will pay the government around £68m to operate the franchise over its life. 

It will introduce Hitachi’s AT300 trains – consisting of seven nine-car and 22 five-car trains, with an option for 30 more – to run primarily from London Paddington to Plymouth and Penzance. 

It will also get 58 four-car electric trains for Thames Valley services. RTM was told that 21 Class 365s (from the Great Northern route) and 29 Class 387s (from the Thameslink route) will be cascaded to the Thames Valley, plus another eight new Class 387s. The new fleet will start being introduced next year and fully implemented by May 2017. 

This could allow further internal cascades to mark the end of the Class 143 Pacers used in the south west of England. 

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. 

Subject to DfT approval, Hitachi stated that the fleet of AT300 trains will be closely related to the Class 800 bi-mode trains designed for the DfT’s IEP, 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. 

“We have put a lot of thought into ensuring a passenger environment that is comfortable for short and long-distance journeys, incorporating feedback by passenger groups.” 

As part of the new franchise, stations will be upgraded with investment in facilities including security, customer information, accessibility and more car parking and bike storage. 

During the 42-month franchise period a £2.2m community investment fund will enable station and train service improvements around lower income communities. There will also be programmes to address accessibility. 

Network Rail is already leading a multi-billion pound programme of rail improvements across the Great Western network, including the continued redevelopment of Reading Station to remove a major bottleneck, reduce delays and create four extra train paths in each direction per hour. 

The troubled electrification of the line from Paddington to Bristol and South Wales, Oxford and Newbury, which will allow the introduction of new IEP trains and local electric train, is expected to be complete by 2018, allowing for a 25% increase in seats and bringing increased frequencies and journey time reductions. 

Transport secretary 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.”

FirstGroup will also invest £50m with its partners to improve stations and car parks, introducing 2,000 more car parking spaces during the course of the franchise. 

Free wi-fi will be introduced across all its fleet, and it will introduce a paid work placement programme for the long-term unemployed, including community work placements and working with The Prince’s Trust to develop a ‘Get into Railways’ mentoring programme. 

Tim O'Toole, chief executive of FirstGroup, said: “We are delighted to be awarded the contract by the DfT to operate the Great Western franchise to at least 1 April 2019, in a deal that will deliver for passengers and taxpayers. As the proud operators of this important franchise, we will be using our unrivalled knowledge and experience of the network to help deliver significant upgrades over the next few years, in particular the introduction of new trains as the mainline is electrified.

 “We are already working closely with the DfT and Network Rail to deliver the initial phases of the £7.5bn Great Western Main Line modernisation programme. This investment is the biggest on the route since Brunel, and will transform a key part of the country’s transport infrastructure.” 

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


Jono   23/03/2015 at 16:43

£68m over 3.5 years is a criminal amount of money. How can the DfT believe that is justifyable when the new East Coast franchisee is paying nearly £400m a year on average!?!?! I don't know how First Great Western, the most expensive railway in the country, get away with it. Give this bloomin' franchise over to Directly Operated Railways already until this already expensive GW modernisation is over!

Matthewread   23/03/2015 at 19:10

Wait a moment what EMUs will operate the Bristol electric services?

Colin Brown   01/08/2015 at 16:22

The Class 800 series.

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