First North Western

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First north western logo.svg
175111 'Brief Encounter' at Crewe.jpg
Franchise(s): North West Regional Railways
2 Mar 1997 - 11 Dec 2004
Main region(s): North West England
North Wales
Other region(s): London
Fleet size: 184
Stations called at: 247
National Rail abbreviation: NW
Parent company: FirstGroup

First North Western[1] was a train operating company in England owned by FirstGroup, that operated the North West Regional Railways franchise from March 1997 until December 2004.


The franchise was developed out of the North Western section of Regional Railways, one of the distinct regional sectors of British Rail which were established in the lead-up to privatisation. For a brief period from 1989, this section was operated under the short-lived Network NorthWest brand name,[2][3] before changing to the Regional Railways brand. The franchise was awarded by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising to Great Western Holdings with operations commencing on 2 March 1997.[4]

On 27 October 1997, a new livery of dark blue with a gold star was unveiled.[5] In March 1998, First bought out the other shareholders in Great Western Holdings.[6][7] The business was rebranded from North Western Trains to First North Western in November 1998 with First’s corporate blue, pink and white livery adopted.[8]


First North Western operated a mix of urban and rural passenger services in North West England and North Wales, radiating out from Manchester to Birmingham, Chester, Holyhead, Liverpool, Blackpool North, Windermere and Sheffield.[9]

In May 1998, North Western Trains commenced services from Rochdale and Manchester Airport to London Euston.[10][11] These ceased in May 1999.[12]

From May 2003, services from Manchester ceased operating south of Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe.[13]

Rolling stock[edit]

First North Western inherited a fleet of Mark 2 carriages, Class 101, 142, 150, 156 and 158 diesel multiple units, and Class 309 and 323 electric multiple units.

To operate the services to London Euston, Class 322s were hired from West Anglia Great Northern.[14]

First North Western ordered 11 two-carriage and 16 three-carriage Class 175 Coradias to replace the Mark 2 carriages, Class 101s and Class 309s.[15]

Problems with the Class 175s saw locomotive hauled trains reinstated on North Wales services from June 2002, with EWS Class 47s and First Great Western Mark 2 carriages.[16]

In February 2004, Class 31s were hired from Fragonset to top and tail Mark 2 carriages on Blackpool to Chester services.

Class Image Type Top speed Number Built
mph km/h
101 101692 at Arley.JPG Diesel multiple unit 75 120 6 1956-1959
142 Pacer at Manchester Victoria.jpg Diesel multiple unit 75 120 79 1985-1987
150 Blaenau First.jpg Diesel multiple unit 75 120 27 1984-1987
153 153316 at Carlisle.JPG Diesel multiple unit 75 120 8 1987-1988
156 156427 at Carlisle.JPG Diesel multiple unit 75 120 18 1987-1989
158 158751 at Westbury.JPG Diesel multiple unit 90 145 8 1989-1992
175 Coradia 175111 'Brief Encounter' at Crewe.jpg Diesel multiple unit 100 160 27 1999-2001
322 Stnstn.jpg Electric multiple unit 100 160 4 1990
323 323225 at Manchester Piccadilly.JPG Electric multiple unit 90 145 17 1992-1993


North Western Trains liveried Class 153 at Carlisle station in August 2004

First North Western's diesel fleet was maintained at Newton Heath Depot, the electric fleet at Lonsight Depot. The Class 175s were maintained at a purpose built depot in Chester.


In 2000, the Strategic Rail Authority announced that it planned to create a new TransPennine Express franchise transferring First North Western's Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere services, with the North Wales Coast Line services transferred to a new Wales & Borders franchise and the remaining services combined those of Arriva Trains Northern to form a new Northern Rail franchise.[17][18]

On 28 September 2003, the North Wales Coast Line services transferred to Wales & Borders.

On 28 July 2003, the Strategic Rail Authority awarded the TransPennine franchise to First/Keolis with services operated by First North Western transferring to First TransPennine Express on 1 February 2004.[19]

On 1 July 2004, the Strategic Rail Authority awarded the Northern franchise to Serco-Abellio with the remaining services operated by First North Western transferring to Northern Rail on 12 December 2004.[20]


  1. ^ Companies House extract company no 3007946 North Western Trains Company Limited
  2. ^ "Summary of Events: 1986 to 2002". Museum of Transport Greater Manchester. Archived from the original on 11 November 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Network Northwest". Rail (EMAP) (93): 39. 6 April 1989. ISSN 0953-4563. 
  4. ^ "Great Western set to win North West franchise" Rail issue 298 12 February 1997 page 7
  5. ^ "North Western Trains launches new look" issue 317 5 November 1997 page 7
  6. ^ Rail bosses cash in on privatised gravy train The Independent 7 March 1998
  7. ^ FirstGroup Annual Report 31 March 1999 First Group plc
  8. ^ "It's First North Western" Rail 345 2 December 1998 page 14
  9. ^ Timetables First North Western 29 November 1999
  10. ^ "New Blackpool-London services to start this May" Rail issue 322 14 January 1998 page 10
  11. ^ "Rochdale NWT London service" Rail issue 323 28 January 1998 page 16
  12. ^ "FNW cuts Euston-Manchester service" Rail issue 355 21 April 1999 page 13
  13. ^ First North Western Announces Minimal Service Changes First North Western May 2003
  14. ^ "NWT livery for Class 322 Stansted units" Rail issue 329 22 April 1998 page 12
  15. ^ "FirstGroup signs for its 110 new GEC DMUs" Rail issue 332 3 June 1998 page 9
  16. ^ First North Western
  17. ^ The Trans-Pennine Express rail franchise Yorkshire & The Humber Transport Activist's Roundtable Briefing Note October 2001
  18. ^ The Wales and Borders Franchise House of Commons Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Third Report 17 March 2004
  19. ^ SRA Announce Preferred Bidder for TransPennine Express Franchise Strategic Rail Authority Press Release 28 July 2003
  20. ^ Serco joint venture selected as preferred bidder for Northern Rail train operating franchise Serco Group 1 July 2004

External links[edit]

Media related to First North Western at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Regional Railways
(Network NorthWest)
As part of British Rail
Operator of the North West Regional Railways franchise
1997 - 2004
Succeeded by
Wales & Borders
North Wales Coast services
Succeeded by
First TransPennine Express
TransPennine franchise
Succeeded by
Northern Rail
Northern franchise