First Great Western
March 1998 – 31 March 2006
1 April 2006 – 11 September 2015
|Main region(s):||London, South East England, South Wales, South West England|
|Other region(s):||West Midlands|
117 Class 43 for 54 High Speed Train sets
|Stations called at:||over 270|
|Passenger km 2007/8:||4985.9 million|
|Route km operated:||2129.2|
|National Rail abbreviation:||GW|
First Great Western is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup. It serves Greater London, the South East, South West and West Midlands regions of England, and South Wales. First Great Western's head office is in Swindon in Wiltshire, although like some other train operating companies, customer service operations are based in Plymouth in Devon. All regular services to and from London are operated from London Paddington station. On 1 April 2006, First Great Western, First Great Western Link and Wessex Trains were combined into the new Greater Western franchise. First had been announced in December 2005 as the operator of the combined franchise for a 7-year period.
First Great Western operates high-speed services between London Paddington, the Cotswolds, South Wales and the West Country, commuter services in London and the Thames Valley, regional services between south-east Wales and south-west England, and local services in the south-west of England. It operates 208 stations, and its services call at over 270.Intercity trains run to the cities of Cardiff, Swansea, Plymouth, Bristol, Exeter and Hereford, and to the towns of Carmarthen, Pembroke (summer), Newquay (summer), Great Malvern, Penzance, Weston-super-mare and Cheltenham. First Great Western also serves two airports serving London: Heathrow (through Heathrow Connect) and Gatwick.
First Great Western operates a large diesel fleet and services are operated by diesel trains only (with the exception of Heathrow Connect, a sub-brand of both Heathrow Express and First Great Western). High-speed services are operated by British Rail Class 43 (HST) locomotives with Mk3 coaches. Commuter services in the Thames Valley use Class 165 and Class 166 Thames Turbo trains, while local services in the south-west are operated with a variety of two- and three-car Diesel multiple unit trains.
- 1 Evolution of the franchise
- 2 Routes
- 3 Livery
- 4 Management and operations
- 5 Performance
- 6 Rolling stock
- 6.1 High-speed services
- 6.2 Thames Valley
- 6.3 West of England
- 6.4 Fleet table
- 6.5 Future fleet
- 6.6 Past fleet
- 6.7 Diagrams
- 7 Fleet refurbishment
- 8 Electrification
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Evolution of the franchise
First Great Western (1998–2006)
Great Western Trains was formed as part of the privatisation of British Rail. As with all the original franchises, Great Western was formed as a division of British Rail prior to the franchise being let. The sector consisted of the express services out of London Paddington to the West of England (Bristol, Exeter, Penzance) and South Wales (Cardiff, Swansea).
The holding company Great Western Holdings, which was part-owned by the Badgerline bus group, won the new Great Western franchise in December 1995. Badgerline later became FirstGroup after a merger with the GRT Group, and in 1998 it bought Great Western Trains outright, rebranding it First Great Western.
First Great Western Link (2004–2006)
First Great Western Link was the former Go-Ahead Group-operated Thames Trains franchise that had been operated since April 2004 by FirstGroup. It provided train services from Paddington to destinations such as Slough, Reading, Didcot, Oxford, Goring and Streatley, Henley-on-Thames, Newbury, Bedwyn, Hereford, Worcester, Stratford upon Avon and Banbury. Train services were also provided from Reading to Gatwick Airport (via Guildford and Dorking), and from Reading to Basingstoke.
The Thames Valley routes were initially privatised in the mid-1990s and sold partly to the managers who had operated the trains under British Rail, and partly to Go-Ahead Group. They later passed into the sole control of Go-Ahead Group, which operated them as Thames Trains.
Wessex Trains (2001–2006)
Wessex Trains came into being on 14 October 2001 when the former Wales and West and Valley Lines franchises were reorganised. Wales and West Passenger Trains Ltd took on the trading name of Wessex Trains and the operation of services in southwest England. The company was owned by National Express. Wessex Trains ran the majority of local trains in the South West.
First Greater Western (2006–2013)
On 1 April 2006, the Great Western, Great Western Link and Wessex franchises were combined into a new Greater Western franchise. FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach were shortlisted to bid for this new franchise. On 13 December 2005 it was announced FirstGroup had won the franchise. The new franchise has kept the name First Great Western. Originally, First planned to subdivide its services into three categories based on routes. However, following feedback from staff and stakeholders, the decision was taken to re-brand and re-livery all services as 'First Great Western'.
In May 2011, FirstGroup announced that it had decided not to take up the option to extend its franchise beyond the end of March 2013. FirstGroup stated that, in the light of the £1bn plan to electrify the Great Western route from London via Bristol to Cardiff, it wanted to try to negotiate a longer-term deal. CEO Tim O'Toole said: "We believe we are best placed to manage these projects and capture the benefits through a longer-term franchise."
By not taking up the option to extend its original franchise contract for a further three years, FirstGroup avoided having to pay £826.6m to the government; it received extra subsidies totalling £133m from the government in 2010.
In March 2012 Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach were shortlisted to bid for the new franchise. The winner was expected to be announced in December 2012, with the new franchisee taking over in April 2013; however, it was announced in July 2012 that the franchise would be extended due to the late issue of the Invitation to Tender (ITT). The ITT ran from the end of July until October 2012. The winner would have been announced in March 2013, and taking on the franchise from 21 July 2013 until the end of July 2028. The new franchise will see the introduction of new Intercity Express Trains, capacity enhancements and smart ticketing. The awarding of the franchise was again delayed in October 2012, while the Department for Transport review the way rail franchises are awarded.
In January 2013 the government announced that the current competition for the franchise had been terminated, and that FirstGroup's contract had been extended until October 2013. In October 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport announced that a new franchise had been awarded directly to FirstGroup without a competition, and would run for 23 months until September 2015. The DfT plans to negotiate a further directly-awarded contract covering the period from September 2015 to July 2016, and to hold an open competition for a long-term franchise running for 7 to 10 years from July 2016.
First Great Western is the key operator for Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Greater Bristol, Berkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. It also serves Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex, Greater London, Hampshire, Dorset, Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire.
First Great Western operates inter-city services to and from London Paddington:
- South Wales:
- One train per hour calling at: Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Bristol Parkway, Newport and Cardiff Central. The London-bound Capitals United service to London Paddington from Swansea avoids calling at Reading.
- One train per hour calling at: Reading, Swindon, Bristol Parkway, Newport, Cardiff Central, Bridgend, Port Talbot Parkway, Neath and Swansea.
- The 05:20 London Paddington to Swansea; the 23:30 London Paddington to Cardiff Central services call at Chippenham, Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads instead of calling at Bristol Parkway. The former also makes an addition stop at Filton Abbey Wood.
- Most peak services run to/from Swansea and call at Didcot Parkway.
- Swansea trains are extended to Carmarthen once daily, and three times a day on Sundays, calling at Llanelli and Pembrey and Burry Port. The London-bound morning Monday-to-Friday Carmarthen extension also calls at Kidwelly and Ferryside on request only.
- Two trains per day on summer Saturdays are extended to Pembroke Dock calling at Whitland, Narberth, Kilgetty, Saundersfoot, Tenby, Penally, Manorbier, Lamphey and Pembroke.
Swansea station is a terminus, at the end of a branch line off the South Wales Main Line and West Wales Line, so all trains from Paddington to Carmarthen and Pembroke Dock must reverse or omit calling there - which is done using a stretch of track bypassing the station completely and connecting the two lines.
- One train per hour calling at: Reading, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads.
- One train per hour calling at: Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads.
- The 04:47 Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington service calls at Bristol Parkway instead of calling at Bath Spa and Chippenham.
- The 06:30 London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads is the only intercity service that makes an addition stop at Keynsham, calling there at 08:10.
- There are extensions to Weston-super-Mare calling at Nailsea and Backwell, Yatton, Worle and Weston Milton.
- Devon and Cornwall:
- One train per hour calling at Reading, Taunton, Tiverton Parkway, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot, Totnes and Plymouth, with one train every two hours (approximately) continuing to Liskeard, Bodmin Parkway, Par, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, Camborne, St Erth and Penzance.
- A few trains to Penzance omit calls at Tiverton Parkway, Totnes, Par, Camborne and St Erth and three services per day do not call at Taunton: The Cornish Riviera (both ways) and The Royal Duchy (westbound only) - express Penzance services. The London bound Cornish Riviera service also does not call at Newton Abbot
- Additional calls are also made at stations such as Newbury, Pewsey, Westbury and Castle Cary. Some trains (mainly during peak hours) also call at Theale, Thatcham, Hungerford and Bedwyn while Frome and Kintbury are served by a few services per day - these slower trains generally do not run to/from Devon and Cornwall. Intercity trains only call at Newbury Racecourse on race days. There is a return service (early morning and evening) from Bristol Temple Meads that also serves Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge.
- Dawlish and Teignmouth are served by a limited number of trains that run to/from Paignton calling at Torquay and one train each way calls at Exeter St Thomas, Starcross, Dawlish Warren (Westbound only) and Torre (The latter being served by two express trains each way). Ivybridge is served by five intercity services per day.
- Services run more frequently to Devon and Cornwall during the summer and there are limited summer-only services run to Newquay.
- Some Penzance trains additionally call at Saltash, St Germans, Lostwithiel and Hayle.
- A few Devon & Cornwall trains run via Bristol. These call at Reading, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Meads, (Weston-Super-Mare), Taunton and then as the normal route.
- An overnight sleeper service called the Night Riviera runs daily (except Saturday nights) between London, Reading and Penzance - calling at intermediate stations in Devon and Cornwall. This is operated using Class 57 locomotives and Mark 3 coaching stock. Single and twin cabins are available as well as seated accommodation.
- One train per hour calling at Reading, Taunton, Tiverton Parkway, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot, Totnes and Plymouth, with one train every two hours (approximately) continuing to Liskeard, Bodmin Parkway, Par, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, Camborne, St Erth and Penzance.
- Calling at Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Kemble, Stroud, Stonehouse and Gloucester.
- Some services also call at Slough.
- There is normally a direct train every two hours, with a Cheltenham to Swindon train on the alternate hours, when through passengers must change at Swindon. The track between Kemble and Swindon is in the process of being redoubled; work is due for completion in early 2014, and will enable up to four trains per hour to run on the line in each direction. This will be ready in time for the planned diversion of services, as the electrification of the line between Swindon and Swansea takes place.
- Calling at Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Kemble, Stroud, Stonehouse and Gloucester.
Services on the South Wales Main Line from Swansea are sometimes diverted via Gloucester during essential engineering works in the Severn Tunnel, and then along the Golden Valley Line to reach Swindon and London. These trains serve Gloucester but not Cheltenham Spa railway station, and lead to the Cheltenham/Swindon local trains being removed.
- Oxford and the Cotswolds
- Calling at Slough, Reading and Oxford.
- The Armada (London-Plymouth (and Penzance - Westbound on Fridays only))
- The Atlantic Coast Express (London-Newquay) (Summer timetable only)
- The Bristolian (London-Bristol - Westbound only) (Weston Super Mare-London - Eastbound only)
- The Capitals United (London-Swansea)
- The Cathedrals Express (London-Hereford)
- The Cheltenham Spa Express (London-Cheltenham Spa)
- The Cornishman (London-Penzance)
- The Cornish Riviera (London-Penzance)
- The Devon Express (London-Paignton) (Westbound only)
- The Golden Hind (London-Penzance)
- The Mayflower (London-Plymouth)
- The Merchant Venturer (London-Penzance - Westbound only) (Bristol-London - Eastbound only)
- The Night Riviera (London-Penzance sleeper)
- The Pembroke Coast Express (London-Pembroke Dock) (Summer Saturday timetable only)
- The Red Dragon (London-Carmarthen)
- The Royal Duchy (London-Penzance)
- The Saint David (London-Swansea)
- The Torbay Express (London-Paignton)
The Night Riviera included the UK's last Motorail service, until that aspect of the service was withdrawn at the end of the 2005 summer season due to low usage.
First Great Western operates commuter services between London and destinations such as Slough, Greenford, Reading, Didcot, Oxford, Newbury, Bedwyn, Hereford, Worcester and Banbury. Services are also provided from Reading to Basingstoke, and to Gatwick Airport via Guildford and Dorking Deepdene; and from Bristol to Newport and Cardiff.
Trains are run on a range of north-south routes from Cardiff, Gloucester and Worcester to Taunton, Weymouth, Salisbury, Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton. Many of these run via Bristol. The company also operate on the local routes and branch lines in Devon and Cornwall, such as the Looe, Newquay, Falmouth and St Ives branch lines in Cornwall; the Exmouth, Paignton and Barnstaple branch lines in Devon; the Gunnislake branch line, which borders both Devon and Cornwall.
Routes operated include: South Wales Main Line (Cardiff-Bristol-Weston-super-Mare-Taunton), Wessex Main Line (Cardiff-Bristol-Bath-Salisbury-Southampton-Portsmouth), Atlantic Coast Line (Par-Newquay), Avocet Line (Exeter-Exmouth), Golden Valley Line (Swindon-Gloucester), Heart of Wessex Line (Bristol-Westbury-Weymouth), Looe Valley Line (Liskeard-Looe), Maritime Line (Truro-Falmouth), Riviera Line (Exeter-Paignton), Severn Beach Line (Bristol-Avonmouth-Severn Beach), St Ives Bay Line (St. Erth-St. Ives), Tamar Valley Line (Plymouth-Gunnislake) and Tarka Line (Exeter-Barnstaple).
The first version of the First Great Western livery was a modified version of the Great Western livery, with fader vinyls over the ivory; it also introduced a gold bar containing the FirstGroup "F" and Great Western logos. The power cars carried the FirstGroup Logo.
When the Class 180 Adelante units were delivered, they were painted in the intercity version of FirstGroup corporate livery. This consisted of a blue base, with purple and gold bars and large pink "F"s. The doors were painted white to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The HST fleet was repainted to match as they went through overhaul; however, the livery on the power cars has been altered, following problems with dirt build-up on the large white areas.
The rolling stock used on the Night Riviera sleeper service retained the original green and gold First Great Western livery until the stock forming these services was refurbished in 2007, when they were painted into 'dynamic lines' livery with vinyls advertising that the coaches operated the 'Night Riviera Sleeper'.
The new franchise involved repainting the HST fleet into FirstGroup's 'Dynamic Lines' livery for intercity and commuter services in the former First Great Western and First Great Western Link areas. The livery was initially applied to the HST fleet as they went through refurbishment, although the Class 180 units did not receive the new livery due to the termination of their lease. The commuter units have also received the new livery while receiving standard maintenance, as a refurbishment was not originally planned. A second livery will be applied to the DMU fleet. This is very similar to the livery used on other services but the 'Dynamic Lines' are replaced by names of local attractions forming the shape of 'Dynamic Lines'. Two Class 150 units were painted in this livery, which is also known as 'Local Lines' but the repaint for the rest of the fleet was put back until they were refurbished.
First's second FGW livery (Barbie) on a Mark 3 coach. This livery was used until the new franchise was created.
First's most recent dynamic lines livery on a Mark 3 coach at London Paddington. This livery has been used since the new franchise was created.
This Class 165 has been repainted to carry the dynamic lines livery.
Management and operations
First Great Western has four major depots:
- Old Oak Common TMD, 2 miles (3.2 km) from Paddington
- Laira TMD in Plymouth
- St Philip's Marsh T&RSMD, near Bristol Temple Meads
- Landore TMD near the end of line in Swansea
There are two smaller depots which are Penzance, Exeter. Penzance primarily look after the sleeper coaches and Exeter maintain West Fleet stock.
The current Managing Director of First Great Western is Mark Hopwood, who replaced Andrew Haines in December 2008.
In 2004–2005, 79.6% of trains arrived on time (defined as within 10 minutes of their scheduled arrival time). On 22 December 2006, the First Great Western InterCity service was declared the worst in Britain for delays, according to figures from the Office of Rail Regulation, with more than one in four trains running late. First was also the only train company to achieve a year-on-year fall in performance results.
First Great Western admitted to misreporting the number of cancellations in the period from August to December 2007, revised figures showing the company to have breached the cancellation threshold in the franchise contract. Specifically the company was alleged to have deliberately cancelled trains on the day prior to service without the prior approval of the Department for Transport, and without recording these cancellations on their performance figures. The company was also accused of falsifying records in order to claim dispensation for large numbers of cancellations. First Great Western was named in a Passenger Focus survey as the worst train operating company for 2007.
On 6 September 2007 FirstGroup announced changes to its management structure, apparently designed to strengthen the First Great Western commuter services. Anthony Smith, head of the rail users council Passenger Focus commented, "A fresh management approach is welcome. Clearly, looking at the passenger satisfaction scores for First Great Western, the train company and Network Rail have a lot to do. However, passengers will believe it when they see improvements."
Some delays are attributable not to First Great Western but to Network Rail, as the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found in September 2007, when it remarked that the First Great Western service continued "to suffer from very high levels of delays attributed to Network Rail" and described Network Rail's performance as "exceptionally disappointing".
By 2009, passenger satisfaction with First Great Western was described by Passenger Focus as having "significantly improved".
First Great Western is no longer the worst-performing UK rail operator, a title which it held for a long period. However, the Which? survey of rail passengers published in February 2013 showed the company scoring lowest of the larger operators with less than 40% satisfaction (Virgin, which topped the poll, managed 67%).
The latest punctuality statistics to be released by Network Rail for period 7 of 2013/2014 were 89.3% PPM (Public Performance Measure) and a MAA (Moving Annual Average) of 88.8% for the 12 months up to 12 October 2013.
In February 2008 the Secretary of State for Transport stated that FGW had "fallen persistently short of customers' expectations and been unacceptable to both passengers and government". She issued First Great Western with a Breach Notice for misreporting cancellations and a Remedial Plan Notice as a result of exceptionally high levels of cancellations and low passenger satisfaction. As part of the Remedial Plan Notice, First Great Western was required to achieve improvement milestones, to lease five more Class 150 units to allow three-car trains to be used on Portsmouth-Cardiff services, to undertake a much more extensive refurbishment of the Thames Turbo fleet, to offer 50% higher compensation for the duration of the franchise, to offer 500,000 more cheap tickets on off-peak services, and to improve station customer information systems. Failure to do this would result in FGW losing its franchise. FirstGroup's railway operating profit, meanwhile, was reported to have risen 10% in the six months to September 2007.
By June 2009, FGW had transformed its performance to become one of the UK rail network's more punctual operators, recording 94.6% of trains arriving on time.
In February 2010 FGW was named Train Operator of the Year at the national Rail Business awards. Presenting the award, judges said, "First Great Western provides an extensive network of commuter, regional, local and intercity trains. The systems they have put into place over the last two years have made a significant improvement to the service they now provide."
First Great Western has been criticised for overcrowded trains, and on 22 January 2007 commuters on the Bath-Bristol staged a protest against overcrowding. Participants were issued with imitation tickets printed with "Ticket type: standing only", "Class: cattle truck", "Destination: to hell and back", "Price: up 12%". The company threatened protestors with criminal prosecution and fines of £5,000, but staff failed to enforce ticket requirements. On 24 January 2007, Alison Forster, First Great Western's Managing Director at that time, apologised to customers.
In January 2008 another fare strike was held as a passenger group said that not enough improvements have been made, despite First Great Western announcing that 2008 season tickets and car parking charges would be frozen until the end of the year.
In late 2010 First Great Western was shown to have operated all of the top ten most overcrowded trains in England and Wales, mostly between Reading and London Paddington. By Autumn 2011, this had reduced to two.
In 2011 First Great Western was revealed to be the train company with the highest levels of overcrowding: an average of 16.6% of passengers were shown to standing during the morning and evening peak times. In 2012 it held the record for the most overcrowded train, carrying nearly twice its capacity, the 07:44 Henley-on-Thames to London Paddington. Paddington, the London terminus for many FGW services, was identified as the most overcrowded station. The company was also listed as the operator with the most passengers in excess of capacity in the south east region in 2012.
High Speed Train
First Great Western uses its large fleet of 54 HST "InterCity 125" sets (seven or eight Mk III coaches between two Class 43 locomotives) to operate most long-distance services between London and destinations such as Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa, Bristol Temple Meads, Cardiff Central, Swansea, Carmarthen, Pembroke Dock (summer), Paignton, Newquay (summer), Cheltenham Spa, Oxford, Worcester Shrub Hill, Hereford, Plymouth and Penzance. Not all the fleet is leased; five sets have been bought outright by First. Currently, FGW operates the largest InterCity 125 fleet. From 2009 to 2012 all FGW's intercity services were worked by HSTs except the Night Riviera sleeper service between London Paddington and Penzance.
The youngest Class 43 locomotive is now 29 years old, and a replacement for the HST is being sought. Although no routes in the First Great Western network have yet been electrified west of Hayes & Harlington, the Great Western Main Line and the South Wales Main Line are currently undergoing electrification. First Great Western is participating in the "Hitachi Super Express" programme and will obtain new locomotives when the electrification of the lines is completed. These will replace the Class 43 fleet on those lines, though some will remain on services on the Bristol to Exeter, Reading to Taunton, Exeter to Plymouth, and West Wales lines, and the Cornish Main Line, all of which will remain unelectrified. However, First Great Western is reinstating Class 180 Adelante units to reduce its dependency on the HSTs for these services, and has already done so on the Cotswold Line. The South Wales Main Line will be the first railway line in Wales to be electrified.
Three units have been scrapped, of which two were written off under FGW control.
Following the Southall (1997) and Ladbroke Grove (1999) rail crashes, FGW requires its HSTs to have Automatic Train Protection and Automatic Warning System safety systems switched on. If either is faulty, the train is not used.
Four Class 57/6 locomotives are used to operate the Night Riviera Sleeper services and to provide emergency haulage for failed HST sets. 57602, 57603 and 57605 are in the First Great Western blue livery. 57604 was put into GWR green in 2010 for the 175 years celebration at Didcot railway centre. Due to reliability problems, FGW has had to hire 57/3 Virgin trains to operate the Night Riviera. Several Class 47s have also worked the Night Riviera. On 25 January 2006 47813 was hired from Cotswold Rail to haul the sleeper trains heading outwards from London.
Class 180 Adelante
First Great Western previously leased 14 Class 180 Adelante units, operating on the Great Western Main Line, but following technical issues they were transferred elsewhere. In 2012, five units were returned to First Great Western to operate services on the Cotswold Line, allowing class 165 and 166 units to be reallocated to increase capacity on Thames Valley services.
Class 150/0 Sprinter
In the Autumn of 2011, The two original Three-car Prototype Class 150 Sprinter units (Class 150001 & 150002) were transferred from London Midland to work services on the Reading to Basingstoke Line, allowing the release of Class 165 and 166 units to reinforce other Thames Valley services.
Class 165 Thames Turbo
The Class 165 "Thames Turbo" is a two- or three-coach DMU used on shorter-distance services in the Thames Valley area, such as those from London to Greenford, and stopping services to Reading and Oxford. They are also used on the Henley and Windsor branches, and on services between Reading and Redhill or Gatwick Airport, and between Newbury and Reading. They are based at Reading Traction Maintenance Depot. All Class 165 units have received First Great Western Neon Dynamic Lines livery.
Class 166 Thames Express Turbo
The Class 166 "Thames Express Turbo" is a three-coach DMU, similar to the Class 165 units but with an internal layout more suitable for longer-distance services. The main visible difference is that Class 166 units have a first-class section at each end of the train, are usually formed of three coaches, and feature opening hopper windows only on every other window, as the units are air-conditioned. They are used on services from London to Bedwyn and Oxford, Reading to Basingstoke, the North Downs Line, and other routes. They sometimes operate on the Cotswold Line if an HST fails. They are based at Reading Traction Maintenance Depot. All Class 166 units have received First Great Western Neon Dynamic Lines livery.
West of England
Class 143 Pacer
First Great Western inherited the small fleet of seven two-coach Class 143 Pacer railbuses from Wessex Trains following the franchise merger in April 2006 (an eighth unit was scrapped after catching fire near Nailsea and Backwell in October 2004). They are currently used on suburban services in and around Exeter. The Class 143 fleet was fully refurbished during 2008 and 2009, and painted in the same livery as the rest of the West of England fleet. Since they are unable to meet an accessibility requirement, they will be withdrawn at the end of 2019.
Class 150/1 Sprinter
In 2010/11, First Great Western received a cascade of 15 Class 150/1 DMUs from London Midland and London Overground, following the delivery of Class 172 Turbostar units to those franchises. These allowed the Class 142 units to be returned to the Northern Rail franchise, and for the Class 143 units to move south to work the Devon and Cornwall branch lines rather than Bristol area commuter services.
Class 150/2 Sprinter
The fleet of 17 two-coach Class 150 Sprinter units was inherited from Wessex Trains as part of the Greater Western franchise shuffle. The fleet had been refurbished by Wessex Trains in 2003, with 2+2 seating arranged in a mixture of 'airline' (face to back) and table seating. The fleet is widespread throughout the former Wessex area, and carried a maroon livery with advertising vinyls for South West Tourism. Each unit was sponsored by a district, town or attraction and carries a unique livery. Most received names of attractions, places and branch lines. Two units were repainted into the new First 'Local' livery, but all others are receiving the new livery when they are refreshed, consisting of a blue body with pink doors and 3 lines of place names in FirstGroup corporate colours. As part of a national fleet shuffle, eight units went to Arriva Trains Wales on 10 December 2006, and were replaced with 8 Class 158 units. All of the Class 150/2 Sprinter fleet is now refurbished.
First Great Western received five extra Class 150/2 units in May 2007 as part of its Remedial Plan Notice, to enable three-car Class 158 trains to operate on the Portsmouth-Cardiff services. From March 2008 to November 2010, five Class 150 sets were hired from Arriva Trains Wales. By November 2010 these had all returned to Arriva Trains Wales.
Class 153 Super Sprinter
The Class 153 is a diesel railcar converted from a Class 155 two-coach unit in the early 1990s. First Great Western has 12, used to strengthen services and on some of the quieter branch lines, although stock shortages often see them operate on their own on busier routes. The refurbishment of class 153s was completed in early June 2008.
Class 158 Express Sprinter
The Class 158 is a two- or three-coach DMU used on regional express services in the former Wessex Trains area. In February 2008, as part of its Remedial Plan Notice, First Great Western announced that it would form some hybrid 3-car Class 158 units in March 2008, made possible by the transfer of five Class 150/2 units from Arriva Trains Wales. There are now ten hybrid units in operation and, combined with the non-hybrid 3-car unit, this provides eleven 3-car units to operate services between Portsmouth and Cardiff, Great Malvern and Brighton, and Great Malvern and Weymouth. After the introduction of Class 150/1 trains from London Overground and London Midland, three of the remaining five 2-coach Class 158s will be reformed to provide two further 3-coach Class 158s.
|Class||Image||Type||Top speed||Number||Cars per set||Routes|
|Class 43 High Speed Train||diesel locomotive||125||200||117||N/A||Daytime intercity services to Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthen, Pembroke, Cheltenham Spa, Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton, Exeter, Paignton, Plymouth, Penzance, Worcester and Hereford.|
|Mark 3 Coach||Passenger Coach||125||200||464||N/A||All routes operated by HSTs.|
|Class 57/6||diesel locomotive||95||152||4||N/A||Night Riviera (London - Penzance)|
|Mark 3 Sleeper Coach||Passenger Coach||125||200||50||N/A||Night Riviera (London - Penzance)|
|Class 143 Pacer||DMU||75||120||8||2||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 150/0 Sprinter||75||120||2||3||Reading - Basingstoke|
|Class 150/1 Sprinter||75||120||15||2||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 150/2 Sprinter||75||120||26||2||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 150/9 Sprinter||75||120||2||3[a]||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 153 Super Sprinter||75||120||14||1||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 158/0 Express Sprinter||90||145||2||2||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 158/0 Express Sprinter||90||145||1||3||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 158/9 Express Sprinter||90||145||12||3[a]||Former Wessex Trains services|
|Class 165/1 Network Turbo||90||145||36||2/3||Former First Great Western Link services|
|Class 166 Network Express Turbo||90||145||21||3||Former First Great Western Link services|
|Class 180 Adelante||125||200||5||5||London Paddington - Worcester/Great Malvern/Hereford/Oxford|
- Hybrid units, where centre car is a driving car from another unit
First Great Western declined an option to continue the Greater Western passenger franchise beyond 2013, citing a desire for a longer-term contract due to the impending upgrade to the Great Western Main Line. The franchise was put out to tender, and it was announced in March 2012 that Arriva, FirstGroup, National Express and Stagecoach had pre-qualified. The winner is expected to be announced in December 2012, with the new franchisee taking over in April 2013. There are not expected to be any new trains before the end of the current franchise period. The Department for Transport previously proposed to build new-generation DMUs to relieve overcrowding for various train operating companies. On 26 November 2008 it was announced that First Great Western would receive 52 extra carriages for use around Bristol. The invitation to tender was issued by the DfT in December 2008. However, in August 2009, following the announcement that the Great Western Main Line would be electrified, the 202-vehicle DMU order was cancelled, with the proposed strengthening of local services to be provided instead by cascades of existing DMUs once electrification is complete. This will involve refurbished Class 319s cascaded from the Thameslink route to local services from London Paddington, with the Class 165s and 166s moving to local routes in the south-west.
The decision on which operator will take over (or keep) the new franchise was due to be made in March 2013, with the new franchise starting in July 2013. However this process has been paused due to the West Coast Mainline reviews and no new dates have been confirmed. The Class 180 Adelante units will remain on the franchise at least until the end of 2016 as they are protected by a Section 54 undertaking. The leases for all other units currently used by First Great Western will have expired and so are subject to negotiation with their respective owners. However the new Greater Western franchisee will be required to operate the new Hitachi Super Express trains as they become available (from 2017 onwards) and this will displace the majority of the HST fleet. The Super Express trains will be a mixture of electric trains and bi-mode diesel/electric trains. On routes that are partially electrified they will switch to diesel mode to serve destinations such as Carmarthen. They are not expected to operate on the Plymouth/Penzance route. It is planned that some of the older HST carriages will be refurbished and receive new doorways that can meet future disability regulations. A 2011 report on the HST concluded that the train could remain in service as late as 2035.
Locomotive-hauled trains were in use on services between Cardiff, Bristol, Taunton and Paignton from December 2008 until November 2010. These services used Class 67 and Class 57 locomotives and Mark 2 coaching stock. They had one set of carriages initially, but a further set of carriages between December 2009 and October 2010. These services ran in the short term to cover for the unavailability of the normal DMU trains. When sufficient DMU trains were available following the transfer of 6 Class 150/1 sets from London Overground, the locomotives and coaching stock were withdrawn. First Great Western issued a tender in May 2013 so that locomotive hauled trains, or other train formations, can be operated on the Taunton-Cardiff route again, starting in December 2013. This would cover for their DMUs while they are off for refurbishment on Monday-Friday diagrams. If locomotive hauled trains were to be used again, they would start 4 years after the final trains from the previous diagrams ran.
Twelve Class 142 Pacer DMUs were received by First Great Western in 2007, starting operations that December. These were loaned from Northern (where they had been stored), in part to cover for refurbishment of FGW's Sprinter fleets but also to allow the Class 158s to be reformed as three coach sets. They were based at Exeter TMD, working alongside the similar Class 143s on services in Devon and Cornwall, including the Avocet Line, Riviera Line and Tarka Line. Five 142s were returned to Northern Rail in the Autumn of 2008, following the completion of the refresh of Class 150 Sprinter units. The remaining seven units were returned to Northern Rail by November 2011 as they have been replaced by Class 150 units cascaded from London Overground and London Midland due to the arrival of new Class 172 Turbostar units.
High Speed Train fleet
In 2005 First Great Western announced that its High Speed Train fleet would be re-engined and refurbished. Upgrades included leather seats in First Class, redesigned toilets, a redesigned buffet, and at-seat power points. FGW decided to opt for mainly airline seats, giving more seats per train. The refurbishment programme began in 2006 and was completed in February 2008, two months late. It was carried out by Bombardier in Derby and Ilford.
A trial took place involving removing buffet cars from three HST sets that were used only on London–Bristol/Cardiff/Exeter journeys, to see if improved performance was possible. Several sets without buffets ended up on long-distance services. No performance improvements were noted, and the plan was scrapped.
In the December 2007 timetable High Speed Trains were introduced on shorter routes where they had not previously been used, to help boost capacity. This introduced buffet cars to parts of the network that had never previously had them.
In June 2008 FGW decided that all its High Speed Trains would have a buffet car, but that they would be of a smaller design, incorporating more standard-class seating space. Full size buffet cars were removed from the high-frequency and shorter-journey sets, replaced with a Mini Buffet, converted from both ex-loco hauled Mk3 TSOs and several refurbished Mk3 TSs, with the removal of one Toilet and Galley/Stores area, along with 4 rows of seating, to create a buffet counter capable of serving FGW's Express Cafe Menu. FGW's Mini/Micro Buffets are now classed as TSMB (Trailer Standard Micro Buffet).
After a successful trial by Angel Trains and FGW in 2004, two power cars received new MTU engines while two received new MAN VP185s, fitted by Brush Traction of Loughborough. The MTU engine proved the better option, both for reliability and for emissions, resulting in FGW, Brush and Angel Trains starting the HST Modernisation programme. The last power cars to be re-engineered were released in April 2008, while several other companies' HSTs have now all undergone a similar programme.
In March 2012, a number of unused buffet cars were selected by FGW to be converted into passenger carriages. A total of 48 carriages, made up of 15 buffet cars and 33 other disused passenger carriages are due to be rebuilt as part of an effort to relieve overcrowding on services.
Thames Valley fleet
As part of its Remedial Plan Notice, First Great Western is undertaking a much more thorough refurbishment of the Thames Turbo fleet than originally planned. The trains are being fitted with improved lighting, carpets, toilets, and a revised seating layout. The trains have already been repainted into the Dynamic Lines livery.
West of England fleet
First Great Western announced in 2007 that it planned to "refresh" the part of its fleet that operates services between Portsmouth and Cardiff, and also local services in the West Country, in an £11m investment programme.
The programme, which has now been completed, included fitting of reupholstered seats, new lighting and floor coverings, CCTV within the passenger saloons, and facelifted toilets. At the same time, the exteriors of the vehicles were repainted in the current FGW livery, including artwork depicting various local places of interest.
The refurbishment work was carried out at a number of locations. Class 158 vehicles were refurbished at Wabtec in Doncaster and fitted with a third additional carriage to supplement passenger capacity. Class 153 vehicles were refurbished at Wabtec in Eastleigh, and Class 150 vehicles at Pullman Rail's Cardiff Canton facility. The Class 143 vehicles were originally to be refurbished at Pullman Rail but the contract was terminated and they were instead refurbished by Wabtec.
First Great Western has a wide network, but it is mostly not electrified. Diesel trains are operated along the third rail electrified West Coastway Line between Redbridge, Southampton, Portsmouth Harbour and Brighton, and along the partly third-rail electrified North Downs Line (electrified between Reading and Wokingham, and between Ash and Guildford). They also operate a short stretch of the third rail electrified Brighton Main Line from Redhill to Gatwick Airport. The only overhead line electrified section on FGW territory is the Great Western Main Line between Paddington and Airport Junction (used by Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect).
As part of the 21st-century modernisation of the Great Western Main Line, large parts of the FGW network are to be electrified using overhead lines, including the GWML from Airport Junction to Bristol Temple Meads via Bath Spa; the South Wales Main Line from the junction with the Great Western at Wootton Bassett to Swansea; the Cherwell Valley Line from Didcot Parkway to Oxford; a very short stretch of the Cross Country Route between Bristol Parkway and Temple Meads; and the Reading to Taunton Line from Reading as far as Newbury.
While the project covers the major intercity routes to Bristol and Wales, many long-distance services run beyond the planned electrification zone to stations such as Cheltenham Spa, Worcester, Hereford, Pembroke Dock, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton and Penzance. These services would have to either retain diesel traction, or employ "bi-mode" trains capable of taking power either from overhead lines or from onboard diesel generators. Some transport groups in the Bristol area are worried that this would mean the end of direct services from London to Weston-super-Mare, forcing commuters on to already crowded local services, currently worked by diesel multiple units approaching the end of their useful lives. These groups and local politicians are campaigning for the extension of electrification to Weston-super-Mare, as well as the complete electrification of the Severn Beach Line. A similar situation developed in Wales, as the electrification was not due to extend to Swansea. However, it was announced in July 2012 that the line to Swansea would in fact be electrified, although there is no proposal to electrify the line west of Swansea to Carmarthen or Pembroke Dock.
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