Contracts awarded to run Greater Western and Thameslink/GN franchises

13 December 2005

Alistair Darling the Secretary of State has today announced that Written First Group has been awarded contracts to run the Greater Western and Thameslink/GN (Great Northern) franchises. Both contracts will commence on 01 April next year.

The contracts have been awarded following a rigorous, competitive and independent bidding process..

The contract my Department has signed for the Greater Western franchise commits First Group to operate the services from London to the South West and South Wales.

Many of the concerns raised following my Department"s consultation on the Invitation to Tender on the Franchise have been addressed. In particular it commits First Group to retain the overnight sleeper between London and Penzance and retains the half hourly off peak service between London and Cardiff.

In excess of £200 million of private sector investment will be made within the early years of the franchise. This will contribute towards a complete re-design of the high speed fleet. Together with the new timetable this will increase the number of standard class seats on trains between London and Reading in the morning and evening peak periods by more than 20% and 30% respectively.

It will also fund a programme of station enhancements, including better customer information systems, passenger security measures including CCTV and 1700 new car parking spaces. Additional revenue protection staff and community support officers will also be provided.

The contract is for ten years, with the final three years dependent on achieving tough service performance targets.

On the Thameslink/GN franchise First Group has been contracted to run services from Brighton, through London and on to Bedford, and from London to Cambridge and Peterborough.

The timing and capacity of services to Bedford will be improved. Over £40m million of private sector investment will be made in the first three years. This will help improve the reliability and quality of the rolling stock, enhance stations and provide 600 additional car parking spaces.

The franchise is for up to 9 years. At the end of the fourth year the franchise will automatically continue for 2 years if performance improvement targets are met. Subject to my Department"s agreement the franchise can then continue for up to three further years. This flexibility is necessary to facilitate work on the Thameslink 2000 Programme which was subject to a public inquiry under the Transport and Works Act.

On both franchises First Group expects to deliver continuous improvement in service performance. In addition, it is contracted to provide premiums of £1,131m for the Greater Western Franchise and £808m for the Thameslink/GN franchise. This is funding that will be put to good use and reinvested back into the railways to help ensure rail services continue to improve.

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