West of England capacity boost in new GWR deal

The new direct award franchise for FirstGroup to continue operating the Great Western Railway franchise until at least March 2023 includes significant plans to improve capacity in the West of England. The new deal began on 1 April for three years, with an optional one-year extension at the Department for Transport’s discretion.

Although full details of the award are yet to be announced, it is understood it will include a recast of regional timetables across the Central and West regions, delivering around 7,000 extra seats a day. It is expected this will see a significant uplift in the Bristol area, supporting the core MetroWest scheme, additional capacity in the Exeter ‘travel to work’ area and improvements into Gloucestershire.

Among plans within the deal are the introduction of 19 Class 769 units supplied by Porterbrook in the Thames Valley, allowing 16 three-car Class 165 Turbo DMUs to move to the West of England, where additional capacity will also be provided by the retention of 10 Class 150/2 sets that had been due to leave the operator. The Class 165 and 166 Turbo DMUs will receive an internal refresh while there is also the possibility these sets could be lengthened to increase capacity.

GWR is also expected to develop longer-term plans for rolling stock provision within the West Country, including for the ‘Night Riviera’ sleeper service.

For more details on the new GWR deal, see the May 2020 issue of Modern Railways