Train operator First Group has signed a new direct award agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT) to continue operating Great Western Railway (GWR) services until 31 March 2023, with a possible extension of up to one further year at the DfT’s discretion.
This agreement ensures continuity of operation and will run concurrently with the DfT’s previously announced Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA) for at least the first six months. First Group’s experience of managing the route over many years will be crucial to restoring the service to full operation once the immediate crisis has abated, and will facilitate the ongoing transformation of GWR, through the biggest changes to the network in a generation.
GWR will build on the improvements it has delivered to services over the past five years, with a focus on connecting people and local communities looking to restore normality when the present restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic are over.
The agreement has a strong emphasis on improving regional connectivity, helping customers return to the railway by making rail a more convenient and environmentally-friendly way to travel. As part of this, GWR will bring additional trains into service to provide thousands of extra seats on regional routes across the network.
There will also be increased funding to improve services for local communities and at stations, and the introduction of a combination of new flexible ticket products for customers who do not commute to work every day, such as discounted part-time season tickets and the extension of paperless pay-as-you-go schemes.
Matthew Gregory, First Group chief executive, commented: “Whilst the immediate focus of GWR is to ensure that key workers, vital to the country’s response to coronavirus, can get to where they need to go, continuity of rail services will also be critical to a restoration of normal life when the present uncertain and difficult situation is overcome.
“In the longer term this new agreement will mean that customers can return to rail as their preferred choice of travel; with more seats, more services, better stations and more flexible ticketing to help reconnect the people and communities we serve.
“When the present emergency measures agreed with Government come to an end, today’s agreement will ensure that GWR will continue to deliver sustainable benefits for customers and an appropriate balance of risk and reward for our shareholders and the Government. We are proud of GWR’s achievements over the last few years, working with industry partners to transform the experience for passengers with new, faster and more environmentally friendly trains and a timetable offering record fast journey times to the major towns and cities on the route.”