Great Western Railway (train operating company)

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This article is about the present-day train operating company. For the former company that existed from 1833 to 1948, see Great Western Railway.
Great Western Railway
GWR Super Express Train.jpg
Artist's impression of Great Western Railway livery on a Class 800
  • InterCity Great Western
    4 February 1996 – 31 March 2006
  • Greater Western
    1 April 2006 - 30 March 2019[1]
Main region(s): London, Thames Valley, South West England, South Wales
Other region(s): West Midlands
Fleet size:
Stations called at: over 270
Stations operated: 208
Route km operated: 2129.2
National Rail abbreviation: GW
Parent company: FirstGroup
Route map
Route map

Great Western Railway (GWR) is a British train operating company owned by FirstGroup. It provides the majority of commuter and outer-suburban services from its Central London terminus at Paddington to West London and the Thames Valley region including Berkshire, parts of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire along with long-distance inter-city services via the Great Western Main Line to South West England and South Wales. It also provides regional services throughout the South West of England and to the south coast of England, and the Night Riviera sleeper service.

The company commenced operating on 4 February 1996 as Great Western Trains as part of the privatisation of British Rail, and in December 1998 became First Great Western[2] after FirstGroup bought out its partners' shares in Great Western Holdings. On 1 April 2006, First Great Western, First Great Western Link and Wessex Trains were combined into the new Greater Western franchise and brought under the First Great Western brand. On 20 September 2015, FirstGroup commenced operating an extended franchise that will run until 30 March 2019. To coincide with the new franchise, the franchise was rebranded GWR and a new livery introduced.[3]

Great Western Railway operates 208 stations, and its services call at over 270.[4] Intercity trains operate to/from Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton, Paignton, Plymouth, Penzance, Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthen, Cheltenham and Hereford. The operator serves 19 counties in England, including all counties in South West England, and 9 in Wales.

Evolution of the franchise[edit]

Great Western, First Great Western (1996–2006)[edit]

As part of the privatisation of British Rail, the Great Western InterCity franchise was awarded by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising to Great Western Holdings in December 1995. Great Western Holdings was owned by some former British Rail managers (51%), FirstBus (24.5%) and 3i (24.5%).[5][6]

In March 1998, FirstGroup bought out its partners' stake to give it 100% ownership.[7][8][9] In December 1998, the franchise was rebranded as First Great Western.[10]

First Great Western Link (2004–2006)[edit]

On 1 April 2004, First Great Western Link commenced operating the Thames Trains franchise. It operated local train services from Paddington to Slough, Henley-on-Thames, Reading, Didcot, Oxford, Newbury, Bedwyn, Worcester, Hereford, Banbury and Stratford upon Avon. It also operated services from Reading to Gatwick Airport (via Guildford and Dorking), and from Reading to Basingstoke.[11]

Wessex Trains (2001–2006)[edit]

Wessex Trains came into being on 14 October 2001 when the former Wales & West and Valley Lines franchises were reorganised. Wales & West Passenger Trains 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 Great Western (2006–2015)[edit]

Former First Great Western logo

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.[12] The new franchise kept the name First Great Western. Originally, First planned to subdivide its services into three categories based on routes.[13] Following feedback from staff and stakeholders, the decision was taken to re-brand and re-livery all services as 'First Great Western'.[14]

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."[15]

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.[16]

Artist's impression of a Class 800 at Paddington in the new Great Western Railway colours

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;[17] however, it was announced in July 2012 that the franchise would be extended due to the late issue of the Invitation to Tender (ITT).[18] 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.[19] The new franchise will include the introduction of new Intercity Express Trains, capacity enhancements and smart ticketing.[20] The award of the franchise was again delayed in October 2012, while the Department for Transport reviewed 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.[21] A two-year franchise extension until September 2015 was agreed in October 2013,[22][23] and subsequently extended until March 2019.[24][25][26] A further extension to April 2019 was granted in March 2015.[1]

Great Western Railway (2015–2019)[edit]

The company rebranded as Great Western Railway (GWR) on 20 September 2015 and introduced a green livery in recognition of the former Great Western Railway.[27][28] The new brand was first rolled out when first class HST interiors were refurbished, on sleeper carriages and Class 57/6s locomotives.[29]


Great Western Railway is the primary operator in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Bristol, Berkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

Main Line routes[edit]

HST on the Dawlish coast

GWR operates inter-city services to and from London Paddington:

A map showing GWR Intercity routes from London

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.

  • Devon and Cornwall:
    • One train per hour calling at Reading, Taunton, Tiverton Parkway, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot, Totnes and Plymouth. One train every two hours continuing Penzance until the 14.06 departure, when all further trains continue to Penzance. The last Paddington-Penzance train is at 18.03 (19.06 Fridays).
      • A few trains to Penzance omit calls at Tiverton Parkway, Totnes (leaving Totnes no direct Penzance trains for nearly seven hours on weekdays), 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 (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 mostly do not run to/from Cornwall and Devon, but Frome is not served by any trains to/from Devon. 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-services running 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.
  • Cheltenham
    • 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 to Swindon train on the alternate hours, when through passengers must change at Swindon. The section of the Golden Valley Line between Kemble and Swindon was redoubled in 2014 to enable up to four trains per hour to run on the line in each direction.[30][31] The increased capacity will be used for the planned diversion of services as the electrification of the line between Swindon and Swansea takes place.

One train per day Monday to Friday operates between London Paddington and Worcester Shrub Hill via Cheltenham. One train on Monday to Friday, to and from Worcester Shrub Hill also calls at Maidenhead and Ashchurch for Tewkesbury.

Two trains on Monday to Friday between London and Cheltenham also stop at Ealing Broadway.

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.

Named trains[edit]

For more details on this topic, see List of named passenger trains of the United Kingdom.
A First Great Western Class 165 in dynamic lines livery at Kintbury, with a service to Reading. These are used on shorter distance services in the Thames Valley area.

Great Western Railway operates a number of named passenger trains, including:[32]

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.

Pullman Dining[edit]

Great Western Railway is the only major UK rail operator to still have five-star dining onboard its restaurant cars, which operate on selected services from London to Wales and the West.[33]

Commuter routes[edit]

Great Western Railway 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).


HST in original First Great Western livery at Reading

Great Western Trains adopted an ivory and green livery. Following the rebranding as First Great Western, fader vinyls were added to the ivory and a gold bar containing the stylised FirstGroup F and Great Western logos.[34]

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 Fs. 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'.

A First Great Western Class 150 in the Local Lines livery, worn by former Wessex Trains services

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.[35] A second livery was 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 a similar outline. More recent repaints have been in a plain dark blue with pink doors.[36]

The rebranding of the company as Great Western Railway introduced a new, dark green livery in September 2015, and will be rolled out across the fleet.


In 2004–2005, 79.6% of trains arrived on time (defined as within 10 minutes of their scheduled arrival time).[37] 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.[38] 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.[39] First Great Western was named in a Passenger Focus survey as the worst train operating company for 2007.[40]

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."[41]

GWR has some of the most overcrowded services on the network. Here, passengers at Bristol Temple Meads crowd on to a service for Cardiff Central.

Some delays are attributable to Network Rail rather than the operator, as the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found in September 2007,[42] 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".[43]

The company 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%).[44]

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.[45]

Remedial Plan[edit]

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.[46][47]

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.[48] 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."[49]

However, in February 2015 First Great Western came 17th (out of 21) in Which? magazine's Best and worst UK train companies survey. Customers gave First Great Western a score of 47% (compared to the worst performing operator, Thameslink and Great Northern, with a score of 43%, and the best performing operator, Grand Central Railway, with a score of 76%). First Great Western also scored 3/5 stars across five of six specific categories, apart from Value for money in which First Great Western scored 2/5 stars.[50]


Fake tickets distributed by protestors on 22 January 2007

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", "Route: 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.[51] On 24 January 2007, Alison Forster, First Great Western's Managing Director at that time, apologised to customers.[52]

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.[53][54]

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.[55] By Autumn 2011, this had reduced to two.[56]

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.[57] 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.[56] Paddington, the London terminus for many FGW services, was identified as the most overcrowded station.[55] The company was also listed as the operator with the most passengers in excess of capacity in the south east region in 2012.[58]

Rolling stock[edit]

Great Western Railway inherited a fleet of InterCity 125 sets (Class 43 power cars and Mark 3 Coaches) and Class 57 locomotives and Mark 3 sleeper coaches from BR. In 2006, it inherited a fleet of Class 165 and Class 166 units from First Great Western Link, and a fleet of Class 143, Class 150, Class 153 and Class 158 units from Wessex Trains. Great Western services are operated using diesel trains only, as none of its routes are fully electrified at present.

High-speed services[edit]

High Speed Train[edit]

A First Great Western Class 43 powercar at Newport

GWR 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, using its large fleet of 58 HST "InterCity 125" sets.[59] These sets consist of seven or eight Mk III coaches between two Class 43 locomotives); GWR operate the largest InterCity 125 fleet and own five sets outright, the rest are leased. From 2009 to 2012 all FGW's intercity services were worked by HSTs except the Night Riviera sleeper service between London Paddington and Penzance, until Class 180s replaced these services on the Cotswolds line.[60]

Interior of a refurbished Standard Class carriage

GWR's High Speed Train fleet were re-engined and refurbished by Bombardier in Derby and Ilford between 2006 and 2008,[61] with leather seats introduced in First Class, redesigned toilets, a redesigned buffet, and at-seat power points. FGW opted for mainly airline seats, giving more seats per train.

After a successful trial by Angel Trains and FGW in 2004, two power cars received new MTU engines while two received new Paxman/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.[62]

The youngest Class 43 locomotive is now over 29 years old, and the class is due to be replaced on some routes as part of the Intercity Express Programme by the Class 800 and Class 801 from 2017. These will be electric and electric/diesel hybrids, introduced following the completion of electrification of the Great Western Main Line from Hayes & Harlington to the west of England in 2016 and Wales in 2017.[63] Some HSTs 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. To do so they will be required to be DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliant, so 14 to 16 sets will undergo major refurblishment (alongside the Night Riviera Sleeper set) including plug doors, new electronics, PIS (passenger information system) and retention tanks. The South Wales Main Line will be the first railway line in Wales to be electrified.

Following the Southall and Ladbroke Grove rail crashes, GWR 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.

Class 57/6[edit]

Four Class 57/6 locomotives are used to operate the Night Riviera Sleeper services and to provide emergency haulage for failed HST sets. 57603 and 57605 is in the green Great Western Railway livery. 57604 was put into GWR green in 2010 for the 175 years celebration at Didcot railway centre. 57602 is still in the First Great Western blue livery. Occasionally, GWR hires 57/3 Direct Rail Services or Virgin trains locomotives to operate the Night Riviera, if their own ones are stopped for maintenance and unavailable for traffic.

Class 180 Adelante[edit]

Class 180 Adelante in First Great Western's "Dynamic" livery

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 weekday services on the Cotswold Line, allowing class 165 and 166 units to be reallocated to increase capacity on Thames Valley services.[60]

Thames Valley[edit]

Class 150/0 Sprinter[edit]

In autumn 2011 the two original three-car prototype Class 150 Sprinter units (Nos. 150001 and 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.[64]

Class 165 Thames Turbo[edit]

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.

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.[65] The trains are being fitted with improved lighting, carpets, toilets, and a revised seating layout.[66] The trains operate in the Dynamic Lines livery.

Class 166 Thames Express Turbo[edit]

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. 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 or Class 180 is unavailable. Like the 165's, they are also based at Reading Traction Maintenance Depot.

West of England[edit]

Class 143 Pacer[edit]

Refurbished Class 143 Pacer No. 143617 at Exeter TMD

First Great Western inherited the small fleet of twelve 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).[67][68] 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.[69] Since they are unable to meet an accessibility requirement, they will be withdrawn at the end of 2019 unless they receive an extensive refurbishment proposed by Porterbrook (who own the class 143s and class 144s).[70] The 'Long Term Passenger Rolling Stock Strategy for the Rail Industry' indicates no new diesel trains will be ordered in the next 10 years.[71]

Class 150/1 Sprinter[edit]

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.[72]

Class 150/2 Sprinter[edit]

Refurbished Class 150/2 No. 150265 at Newton Abbot

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.

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.[65] 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[edit]

Refurbished Class 153 No. 153373 at Avonmouth

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 carried out by Wabtec in Eastleigh,[73] and was completed in early June 2008.[74]

Class 158 Express Sprinter[edit]

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.[65] 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.[75]

The fleet was refurbished in a programme begun in 2007,[76] which 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 updated FGW livery, including artwork depicting various local places of interest. FGW's Class 158 vehicles were refurbished at Wabtec in Doncaster and fitted with a third additional carriage to supplement passenger capacity.[73]

Fleet table[edit]

Class Image Type Top speed Number Cars per set Routes
mph km/h
Class 43 High Speed Train Bath Spa railway station MMB 12 43063.jpg diesel locomotive 125 200 119 N/A Daytime intercity services to Cardiff, Swansea, Carmarthen, Pembroke (summer only), Cheltenham Spa, Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton, Exeter, Paignton, Plymouth, Penzance, Worcester and Hereford.
Mark 3 Coach Reading railway station MMB 48 43017.jpg Passenger Coach 125 200 464 N/A Used on all daytime intercity services except some services to Oxford, Great Malvern and Hereford - operate as part of InterCity 125. Also used with the Night Riviera sleeper train.
FGW MK3 Coach.jpg
Class 57/6 Taunton - FGW 57602 replacing 57604.jpg diesel locomotive 95 152 4 N/A Night Riviera (London - Penzance)
Mark 3 Sleeper Coach Night Riviera SLEP 10612.jpg Passenger Coach 125 200 50 N/A Night Riviera (London - Penzance)
Class 143 Pacer Hugh llewelyn 143 611 (6636668523).jpg DMU 75 120 8 2 Former Wessex Trains services
Class 150/0 Sprinter Reading - FGW 150001 in platform 1.jpg DMU 75 120 2 3 Reading - Basingstoke[77]
Class 150/1 Sprinter 150104 FGW Swindon.JPG DMU 75 120 15 2 Former Wessex Trains services
Class 150/2 Sprinter Penryn - FGW 150265 waiting for 153329.jpg DMU 75 120 26 2 Former Wessex Trains services
Class 150/9 Sprinter 150927 FGW Bristol.JPG DMU 75 120 2 3[a] Former Wessex Trains services
Class 153 Super Sprinter Nailsea and Backwell railway station MMB 40 150239 153380.jpg DMU 75 120 14 1 Former Wessex Trains services
Class 158/0 Express Sprinter Westbury railway station MMB 36 158767.jpg DMU 90 145 2 2 and 3 Former Wessex Trains services
Class 158/9 Express Sprinter Portsmouth Harbour railway station MMB 09 158951.jpg DMU 90 145 12 3[a] Former Wessex Trains services
Class 165/1 Network Turbo Twyford - FGW 165113.JPG DMU 90 145 36 2/3 Former First Great Western Link services
Class 165 First Great Western Diagram.PNG
Class 166 Network Express Turbo Paddington station MMB 41 166205 43XXX.jpg DMU 90 145 21 3 Former First Great Western Link services
Class 180 Adelante Hugh llewelyn 180 108 (7783056302).jpg DMU 125 200 5 5 London Paddington - Worcester/Great Malvern/Hereford/Oxford (weekdays only)[78]
  1. ^ a b Hybrid units, where centre car is a driving car from another unit

Future fleet[edit]

In March 2015 it was confirmed that the future arrivals at First Great Western would be:[79]

  • 21 x 4-car Class 365s for Thames Valley services
  • 29 x 4-car Class 387/1s for Thames Valley/Paddington to Swindon services
  • 8 x 4-car Class 387/3s for Thames Valley/Paddington to Swindon services
  • 36 x 5/9-car Class 800s for Intercity services
  • 21 x 9-car Class 801s for Intercity services

In July 2015 it was confirmed that an additional new fleet of 29 bi-mode trains would be provided to replace HSTs on Long Distance West of England services:

  • 22 x 5-car and 7 x 9 car Hitachi AT300 bi-mode trains for services between Paddington, Devon and Cornwall[80][81]
Class Image Type Top speed Number Cars per set Routes
mph km/h
Class 365 Ely, Class 365 in TSGN livery.JPG Electric Multiple Unit 100 160 21 4 Commuter and Local services in Thames Valley
Class 387 Class 387 at Luton.jpg Electric Multiple Unit 110 177 37 4 Commuter and Local services in Thames Valley
Class 800 GWR Super Express Train.jpg Bi-Mode Multiple Unit 140 225 17




Intercity Routes
Class 801 GWR Super Express Train.jpg Electric Multiple Unit 140 225 21 9 Electric Intercity Routes (London-Bristol/Swansea)
Hitachi AT300 GWR Super Express Train.jpg Bi-Mode Multiple Unit 140 225 22




Intercity services to Devon and Cornwall

The above will allow some Class 165s and 166s to be cascaded west and 27 sets (in 2+4 and 2+5 formation) of the HSTs to be cascaded to ScotRail.[82]

Past fleet[edit]

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.[83] 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.[84]

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.


HST at the Laira Traction Maintenance Depot

First Great Western has four major depots:

There are two smaller depots, Penzance and Exeter. Penzance primarily looks after the sleeper coaches and Exeter maintains West Fleet stock.


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).[85]

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.[86][87][88] The branches to Marlow, Henley, and Windsor, and the Reading to Basingstoke Line will also be electrified.[89]

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,[90] 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.[91][92][93][94][95] A similar situation developed in Wales, as the electrification was not due to extend to Swansea.[96][97][98] 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.[87][88]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Media related to First Great Western at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
As part of British Rail
Operator of Great Western franchise
Succeeded by
First Great Western
Greater Western franchise
Preceded by
First Great Western
Great Western franchise
Operator of Greater Western franchise
2006 – present
Preceded by
First Great Western Link
Thames franchise
Preceded by
Wessex Trains
Wessex franchise