Posted 21st September 2015 | 8 Comments

The Great Western Railway is back in business

WEEKDAY commuter trains run officially under the banner of the Great Western Railway are arriving at Paddington today for the first time since 31 December 1947.

FirstGroup is launching its new franchise under the brand of the former company which existed continuously from the 1830s until 1947, being the only one to survive the 'Grouping' of 1923. The GWR was nationalised along with the other three main line companies at the start of 1948, when its English and Welsh lines became the Western Region of British Railways.

The new Great Western franchise is a direct award which will run from 20 September this year until at least April 2019, and the company's new website says: 'We're giving the West back its Great Western Railway'. It also promises: 'We no longer behave as a franchisee, but as a custodian – responsible for reinvigorating the west by returning the railway to its former glory.'

The next few years will be marked by major changes to the infrastructure and rolling stock. The main line is being electrified between London and Swansea via Bristol, and also to Oxford, Newbury and some of the Thames Valley branches.

New fleets of trains will enter service. The larger proportion will be the Hitachi-built Intercity Expresses for service between London, Bristol and South Wales, while the remaining diesel HST fleet which would still have been needed for the south west beyond Bristol will be replaced by 29 Hitachi AT-300 bi-modal sets. These are being procured via a private financing deal which FirstGroup proposed to the DfT when the terms of the new franchise were being negotiated.

Many cascaded electric units will also arrive, so that Class 365s will replace most of the Thames Valley diesel 165s, while other cascades will move more Class 158s to the far south west and also see the end of Class 14x Pacers. Single-car Class 153s will be replaced by WiFi-equipped two-car Class 150s on the Cornish branches. The main line through Cornwall will gain a half-hourly service.

In a message to stakeholders, GWR managing director Mark Hopwood said: "We will meet the challenge of creating a world-class railway that lives up to its historic name, and we will do that together with you, our customers and our partners.

"The physical change will not happen overnight, but you will see things change more and more in the coming weeks, months and years. There will however be no change to our commitment to support local communities and to drive forward both the economic and transport agendas in the areas we serve."

The new franchise has started in a cloud of controversy, because it has been revealed that the company recently received gross compensation of almost £19 million in compensation from Network Rail, mainly in connection with serious and re-occurring disruption caused by signalling faults between Reading and London. The RMT union, which is in dispute with GWR over plans to replace buffets with trolleys on intercity services and also to give drivers of the new Intercity Expresses control of the doors, called for the money to be used to provide buffets on the new Hitachi trains, but the company has not indicated that its policy is changing. The compensation figure is not believed to include balancing payments due to Network Rail for delays caused by train faults.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Greg Tingey, London

    No, the GWR is emphatically NOT back in business.
    It's just a n other TOC, though it will probably acquire the self-important puffery & arrogance of the old company!

    P.S. Though Chocolate-&-Cream coaches might be nice!

  • MikeB, Liverpool

    The new title Great Western Railway (or the name of any other franchise for that matter) should stay the same, thus saving a fair amount of money re-branding trains and stations every time there is a change of operator. Also, passengers become used to the name of their regular train operator and it does confuse some people if a new operator decides on a totally different identity for the franchise.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    The irony is that it was First Group who renamed Thameslink First Capial Connect and it's taken its successor Govia to re-introduce the name by which the service has been known since the project began.

    As for use of GWR surely they should have waited until the new trains arrive for both local and long distance services instead of applying it to 49 year old trains !

  • jack jaye, leamington spa

    Spend the money on keeping the Buffet Cars,some hope! agree 100% with the first comment here,how dare First Group use an iconic brand name back from when it was a 'real' railway not the gravy train for them as it is now,and how many future passengers realise that the Japan built trains are custom built for the Far East so small seats and windows,just the job for looking out as you flash past the South Devon sea wall,munching your rubbish,overpriced sandwich and tea.

  • John Gilbert, Cradley, Herefordshire

    Yes, back in business, but just until the Franchisee, present or a new one, decides on something else!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In comparison with the 162 years of the proper GWR!!! Totally transient I'm afraid.

  • James Hutton, Oxford

    Seems surprising that the name Great Western Railway (GWR) isn't a trademarked name. Perhaps it is owned by the government from rail nationalisation in the 1940s? First Group could perhaps be thought to be guilty of misrepresentation as the don't run a 'railway', just a few trains :-)

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    Hapless FirstGroup further dragging the great name of Great Western down, is, in my opinion a disgrace.

    A more apt name for a poor intercity operator with almost zero onboard facilities, as is planned, would be First North Western (On tour).

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Is this the time for re-branding ? I'm well aware that it is a device - sometimes very successful - to draw a line with past failures and problems. Reading re-build is 100% successful, both early and on Budget. But GWR is currently surrounded by Problems - particularly the electrification problem on over-run on time and money, and the disputes over the new Trains to be introduced in a couple of years time. I would suggest that the re-branding/re-naming should have been done when the new trains either local or 'Inter-City' were brought into service.