FirstGroup extends Great Western franchise

<p>FirstGroup has signed a deal to operate the First Great Western franchise until April 2019.</p>

FirstGroup will operate the Great Western rail network for another four years after signing a deal with the Department for Transport (DfT).

The leading transport operator in the UK and North America will continue to run the First Great Western rail service until April 1st 2019. There is also an option to extend this for a further year providing DfT grants approval. FirstGroup has been operating the Great Western route, which provides a key link between London, the south-west, Cornwall and Wales, since being awarded the contract in April 2006.

As part of the contract, FirstGroup will be conducting the largest fleet upgrade on the route in a generation. It has unveiled plans to introduce new and updated trains for every area of the network. This will result in an increase in service numbers while the frequency will also be improved.

Over the coming years, FirstGroup is increasing capacity on key markets such as Bristol, Exeter, Oxford and Gatwick Airport as well as a 16 per cent increase in peak time seats in and out of London Paddington station. London to Bristol services will increase 70 per cent with First aiming to add 9,000 extra seats every day in the franchise by December 2018.

Tim O'Toole, FirstGroup chief executive, said: "Under our experienced management, the franchise will see new or refurbished trains on every part of the network, resulting in more frequent and faster journeys and an increase in the number of seats."

The announcement provided a boost to FirstGroup's share price which was up 2.58 per cent as of 09:05 GMT on Monday (March 23rd).

Upgrade to UK train services

FirstGroup's contract extension of the Great Western rail network comes after the government unveiled plans for a transformation of rail services in the north of England. Last week, chancellor George Osborne laid out the Northern Transport Strategy which aims to build on the proposals of HS2.

The plans are centred around reducing journey times between the likes of Manchester and Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool and Leeds and Newcastle.

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