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First Great Western plans AT300s to Cornwall

23 Mar 2015

UK: Two fleets of new trains and potentially a third will be introduced on the Great Western network over the next four years under the terms of a direct-award franchise announced by Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin on March 23. These would boost capacity on the network by around 25%, adding up to 3 million seats a year, he said.

Incumbent operator FirstGroup has agreed to make premium payments totalling £68m for the right to continue operating the franchise for 42 months from September 2015 until April 2019, with an option for a further 13-month extension. This will cover the remainder of Network Rail’s £7·5bn Great Western Main Line route modernisation, which includes electrification between London, Bristol and South Wales along with the introduction of ETCS Level 2 to replace the current automatic train protection system.

FGW will be responsible for introducing the Hitachi-built Class 800/801 Super Express Trains ordered by the Department for Transport under the Intercity Express Programme, covering 369 electric and bi-mode vehicles. These are expected to cut journey times between London and Cardiff by up to 14 min.

The franchise will also deploy 58 four-car EMUs on Thames Valley suburban services from London Paddington. These will include 21 Class 365 units coming off-lease at Great Northern under the Thameslink Programme, the 29 Class 387/1 units currently entering service at Thameslink as a stopgap measure pending delivery of Siemens Class 700s and an extra eight Class 387s to be ordered from Bombardier as an option on Govia Thameslink Railway’s current order for Gatwick Express Class 387/2 units.

FGW hopes to conclude negotiations with the Department for Transport by the end of June for the introduction of seven 9-car and 22 five-car inter-city trainsets to replace its IC125 High Speed Trains on routes between London and Devon and Cornwall from the summer of 2018. FirstGroup has already selected Hitachi Rail Europe as preferred bidder to supply 200 km/h AT300 bi-mode trains, which would be similar to the IEP sets but with an enhanced diesel rating to cope with steeper gradients in Devon and Cornwall. They will run as electric trains between London and Newbury, and have larger fuel tanks to cater for the longer journeys to Plymouth and Penzance. According to the franchisee, these could cut journey times from London by 5 min to Exeter, 6 min to Plymouth and 14 min to Penzance.

As part of the franchise commitments, FirstGroup is to invest £30m on improving stations and car parks, together with a £3·5m fund for station development and £2·5m for accessibility works.