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New FGW franchise to build on improvements

Posted: 4 December 2013 | First Great Western | No comments yet

Running services out of London Paddington, across the South and West of England and South Wales, the former Greater Western franchise began operating on 1 April 2006. Operated by First Group and branded as First Great Western, the network combines the previous Great Western Intercity, London and Thames Valley, and West Country regional franchises. A second, 23-month franchise agreement began on 14 October 2013.

The First Great Western story Running over 1,550 trains a day, First Great Western (FGW) manages 210 stations and calls at a further 60 across the South West network. First Group made the decision in 2011 not to take up a contractually permitted three-year extension to the franchise, with a view to retendering for a longer-term agreement.

The decision enabled the Department for Transport (DfT) to develop plans for a longerterm franchise that would benefit from and help to deliver a number of major schemes, including electrification of a significant part of the network, the completion of Crossrail and the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme bi-mode trains. First Group was shortlisted to submit a bid for this longer-term franchise, which was due to begin in July 2013 and run for 15 years, but this process was delayed following the decision in October 2012 by the DfT to pause its franchising programme.

Running services out of London Paddington, across the South and West of England and South Wales, the former Greater Western franchise began operating on 1 April 2006. Operated by First Group and branded as First Great Western, the network combines the previous Great Western Intercity, London and Thames Valley, and West Country regional franchises. A second, 23-month franchise agreement began on 14 October 2013.The First Great Western story Running over 1,550 trains a day, First Great Western (FGW) manages 210 stations and calls at a further 60 across the South West network. First Group made the decision in 2011 not to take up a contractually permitted three-year extension to the franchise, with a view to retendering for a longer-term agreement.The decision enabled the Department for Transport (DfT) to develop plans for a longerterm franchise that would benefit from and help to deliver a number of major schemes, including electrification of a significant part of the network, the completion of Crossrail and the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme bi-mode trains. First Group was shortlisted to submit a bid for this longer-term franchise, which was due to begin in July 2013 and run for 15 years, but this process was delayed following the decision in October 2012 by the DfT to pause its franchising programme.

Running services out of London Paddington, across the South and West of England and South Wales, the former Greater Western franchise began operating on 1 April 2006. Operated by First Group and branded as First Great Western, the network combines the previous Great Western Intercity, London and Thames Valley, and West Country regional franchises. A second, 23-month franchise agreement began on 14 October 2013.

The First Great Western story Running over 1,550 trains a day, First Great Western (FGW) manages 210 stations and calls at a further 60 across the South West network. First Group made the decision in 2011 not to take up a contractually permitted three-year extension to the franchise, with a view to retendering for a longer-term agreement.

The decision enabled the Department for Transport (DfT) to develop plans for a longerterm franchise that would benefit from and help to deliver a number of major schemes, including electrification of a significant part of the network, the completion of Crossrail and the introduction of the Intercity Express Programme bi-mode trains. First Group was shortlisted to submit a bid for this longer-term franchise, which was due to begin in July 2013 and run for 15 years, but this process was delayed following the decision in October 2012 by the DfT to pause its franchising programme.

First was asked to continue to operate the Great Western network and extend the current franchise for a further 28-week period before entering into negotiations with the DfT to operate the franchise under a short-term Single Tender Award. A 23-month Single Tender Award agreement was reached and commenced on 14 October 2013.

The best provider

Service delivery for FGW passengers, in a safe and efficient manner, remains at the top of the FGW agenda following the decision to award the new franchise. The DfT clearly saw FGW as the best provider – a testament to the high standard of customer service delivered on a day-to-day basis.

The 23-month Single Tender Award agreement is good news for rail passengers, providing continuity and consistency of service with FGW. The award also allows the company to build on the improvements its experienced team made during the last franchise period from 2006 to the end of March 2013.

Improvements

Much has been achieved by the rail operator since 2006 – passenger volumes have increased by 25%, with a 40% increase in advance purchase and off peak travel. Additionally, more than 170 rolling stock vehicles have been introduced to the network and performance and customer satisfaction rates have improved considerably.

Yet, there is still much for FGW to do to maintain record levels of passenger growth and satisfaction.

In addition to the new 23-month agreement, FGW are conducting further work with the DfT to secure improvements, including the introduction of a fleet of electric trains in the London Thames Valley, plus the extension of Wi-Fi provision to its high-speed train fleet and additional standard class capacity. Conversations with the DfT could also see the introduction of smart ticketing after the company successfully launched a mobile ticketing application for both iPhone and Android handheld devices.

During the preceding franchise, in 2006, First Group won the Great Western Franchise against stiff competition with a promise to invest to improve train services. At the time, the average Public Performance Measure (PPM) for the network was 82% and overall satisfaction measured by the National Passenger Survey remained static at 77%.

Rolling stock investment

Central to FGW’s improvement plans was a comprehensive £80 million re-engineering programme for its high-speed train fleet, replacing ageing engines in all 117 power cars to improve reliability, efficiency and service life. More visible to its customers than the re-engineering of the power cars however, was a £65 million investment to provide new, high quality interiors for the 400 carriages in the highspeed train fleet.

The company now has the most high-speed trains operating the Great Western network since it was built, with increased frequencies.

During the last franchise, a £2 million upgrade was also carried out to the now sought after Night Riviera Sleeper which runs between London Paddington and Plymouth/Penzance. Following extensive consultation with service users, all 17 sleeper carriages received a comprehensive refurbishment with new interior décor, lighting and re-upholstered First Class style seating giving the carriages a more comfortable, relaxed feel. An additional carriage was also leased to harness increasing demand.

More recently, in 2012, interiors were refreshed with old blankets replaced by more comfortable duvets. Since 2006, FGW have managed to increase passenger numbers on the service by 10% year-on-year and the new 23-month Single Tender Award will see two additional carriages provided to harness demand.

More than 170 new rolling stock vehicles were introduced since 2006, taking advantage of the DfT’s High Level Output Specification (HLOS) programme. FGW secured 48 additional carriages after negotiations with the DfT in 2011, to the benefit of passengers travelling on an increasingly congested network.

The deal, whereby FGW refurbished former buffet cars, provided an extra 4,500 seats for customers on peak services into and out of London – a capacity increase of 9%. Five Class 180 trains were also leased to replace Turbo services on the North Cotswold line between London Paddington and Worcester. The rolling stock investment was specifically designed to reduce crowding on the most popular peak services on the network, particularly those into and out of London.

The work with the Government to source and invest in additional carriages, and sched – uling improvements, has seen a reduction in the number of services in the Government’s most overcrowded services list from all 10 of the top 10 to just one in the latest figures1.

FGW’s expertise has also been harnessed with the Government’s Intercity Express Programme which will see new bi-mode electric and fuel Intercity trains replace the ageing highspeed fleet and deliver further capacity improvements from 2017.

Passenger growth

The growth in the number of customers using FGW services has been one of the great success stories of the UK’s privatised rail industry and the number of people taking advantage of extra services and capacity continues to increase. A staggering 97 million passenger journeys were undertaken on the First Great Western network in the last year alone.

Passenger numbers on the West Country community rail lines hit two million for the first time last year, taking the increase on some branch lines up by as much as 147% since 2006. Over half a million people used the Tarka Line in the past year; passenger numbers rose to over 175,000 on the Tamar Valley line; by over 104,000 on the Looe branch line; over 84,000 on the Atlantic Coast line; over 600,000 on the Maritime Line; and over half a million on the St Ives Line. Additionally, the community rail line serving Bristol fell just short of reaching a million passenger journeys.

Among the fastest growing and most reliable of all services offered by FGW, the community rail line results show the value of local services and how productive partnerships with community rail groups and local authorities can really deliver results.

Station transformation

First Group started its 2006 Great Western franchise with a promise of a £14 million investment to transform stations across the network of 210. By the end of the 2012/2013 financial year, the total investment secured for station improvements reached more than £85 million, including funding for projects from FGW, the DfT, Network Rail and local authorities.

A £10 million redevelopment of Bath Spa station has not only increased the flow of customers through the busy station, but helped to re-invigorate the southern part of the city; while a £1 million overhaul of Slough station created one fit to transport people to and from Eton Dorney, which hosted the London 2012 Olympic rowing events.

Electrification

Government investment for the future of the Great Western network is set to transform Brunel’s greatest achievements. With £9 billion already announced for the electrification of the line, this paves the way for faster, more reliable services and the most of planned investment in new trains. The first of the new Intercity fleet will be seen on the network from 2017.

Performance rise

During 2006 to 2012/13, FGW’s performance – measured by the Public Performance Measure (PPM) – increased by more than 6% from 82% to in excess of 89%, and National Passenger Survey results saw a corresponding rise of 5%. Significant rises in the upkeep and repair of stations, in cleanliness and in the facilities provided, and in the provision of information about train times and platforms was also recorded.

The new 23-month franchise agreement will provide continuity and consistency in the UK rail network, allowing the experienced travel provider to build on the improvements its team has made over the last franchise period.

The network’s longer-term future is very promising if First, committed to supporting the communities it serves, can take up the challenge to provide innovative solutions in this increasingly congested world.

Reference

1. Autumn 2012, published in Autumn 2013

Biography

First Great Western’s Managing Director is Mark Hopwood who was educated at Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe and then joined British Rail after ‘A’ levels in 1989. Mark was sponsored through the University of Essex from 1990 to 1993 where he studied politics. He undertook a variety of operational and customer service roles in the Thames Valley for BR, Network SouthEast and Thames Trains including Station Manager at Slough and Performance Manager for Thames Trains. In 2000 Mark joined Railtrack PLC and worked as a Passenger Negotiations Manager in its London HQ before re-joining a train operator in 2001 when he was appointed Operations Director of First North Western. Mark returned south in 2004 to be Operations Director of National Express Group’s London rail businesses which included c2c, WAGN and Silverlink Metro and County. He was made Managing Director of that business in 2006 when it was reshaped to include c2c, Gatwick Express and both Silverlink Businesses. In 2008, Mark left National Express to return to First as Performance Director and Deputy Managing Director and he became Managing Director of FGW in December of that year. At FGW, Mark restored punctuality, achieved ‘Train Operator of the Year’ and worked to deliver substantial investment with Network Rail in the business and the routes it serves.

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