Devon and Cornwall could see a new state-of-the-art fleet of intercity trains in just over three years as part of proposals put forward by First Great Western in its new franchise deal with the Department for Transport. The new franchise will see FGW operating the Great Western route until at least April 2019.
FGW today announced Hitachi Rail Europe as the preferred supplier, subject to contract, for 29 new AT300 trains, which would increase the number of seats for customers by 24%, increase train frequencies at key stations, and help speed up typical journey times from London by 5 minutes (Exeter), 6 minutes (Plymouth) and 14 minutes (Penzance). First is in the final stages of securing private financing for the deal.
The bi-mode trains would be able to run in diesel or electric mode at speeds of up to 125mph, and are similar to the new Super Express Trains that will operate on the Great Western mainline between London, Bristol and South Wales. Key differences include higher powered engines designed to handle the track gradients in Devon and Cornwall. They will run as electric trains between London and Newbury, and are equipped with bigger fuel tanks to cater for the long distance journeys to Plymouth and Penzance.
The new trains are subject to final approval from the Department for Transport before the end of June. They would enter service from summer 2018 onwards, with the full fleet in service by December 2018, when major timetable changes will transform rail services in the region.
New trains are just one part of a wide ranging deal that has been put together by First Great Western and the DfT that will see all First Great Western trains updated and modernised by December 2018, with three million additional seats in service for customers across the network.
First Great Western Managing Director, Mark Hopwood said: “We have been talking to our customers and partners in the south west for some time about the benefits new trains could bring and, for us at First Great Western, it was the most compelling solution we could recommend to government.
“The railway is central to the connectivity and economic prosperity of the region, and I am delighted we have been able to work with the Department for Transport to develop a privately funded deal that will deliver for our customers in Devon and Cornwall and begin to challenge some of the perceptions of rail. I am confident it will get the support and approvals it needs to go ahead.
“The Great Western network is already seeing the biggest investment since Brunel, and this deal has been designed to match that investment and ambition. It gives passengers newer trains, faster, more frequent services and importantly, given the growth this franchise has seen in recent years, more seats.”
The company will also expand the use of the GWR brand, currently used in its long distance First Class carriages and will begin its rebrand before the start of the new franchise in September.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “I am determined that passengers in the West, Thames Valley and South Wales get a railway that is fit for the 21st century. This is a fantastic deal, which will give them more seats, more services and brand new fleets of modern trains.
“This government knows the importance of our railways. That is why they are a vital part of our long term economic plan, with over £38 billion being spent on the network between 2014 and 2019.”
As part of the new franchise, First Great Western has outlined a range of benefits for customers that will be delivered by December 2018, both for long distance and commuter services:
Improvements from May 2017
More services between London and Penzance.
Introduction of an earlier direct first intercity service to the South West from Paddington, arriving in Exeter before 0900, Plymouth before 1000 and Penzance by 1140.
A cascade of 90mph trains will help transform local services between Bristol and Penzance and on the Barnstaple line.
Free WiFi progressively installed on all First Great Western trains across the network.
Improvements from 2018
More direct trains into Devon and Cornwall, doubling the number of trains into and out of Cornwall, and reducing journey times between Paddington and Penzance by up to 14 minutes.
Improved service frequency, with 58% more seats on suburban commuter services in the Exeter area. Two trains per hour between Exmouth and Paignton.